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Sugar addiction; an overview

What is Sugar Addiction?

Sugar addiction refers to an individual's addiction to "free" or "added" sugars. That is, sugars which are not naturally present in a food stuff, meal etc. A good example of these "sugary foods" would be the sugar added to fruit juices to further sweeten them.

It is often cited that this addiction is a key contributor to weight gain and subsequently obesity (and a myriad of other metabolic and health disorders). Many popular "experts" have cited sugar and sugar cravings as the key factor in the ever-increasing prevalence of obesity.

Is Sugar Addiction validated in the research?

It's important to note that, before we dive into the validity of addiction towards sugary foods it's important to consider addiction itself. Addiction is a highly complicated subject and the spectrum of addictive behaviours and symptoms is usually not consistent between cases and is not always easily defined.

How do we classify addiction?

Before we can make a case for sugary foods and or sugar as an addictive substance, we must first define addiction, which is referred to as substance use disorder (SUD) in the literature.

Experts utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a tool to unify diagnostic criteria in clinical and/or experimental design. The current version of this manual known as the DSM-5 includes a section for SUD and it incorporates eleven criteria for diagnosis.

A patient must fulfill at least two of these criteria to be classified as having a SUD. In turn, these eleven criteria, by their characteristics, can be compiled into four broader groups.

Animal models

The majority of data collected on the subject of sugar addiction (easier to refer to it this way than sugar SUD which may confuse people) has been achieved in animal models (quite simply, lab based tests typically performed in a population of rats although other animals may sometimes be used). Whilst it would be an injustice to give this subject a broad stroke and sum it up in a few words, for the sake of simplicity and understanding, that's exactly what we're going to do (my blog, do what I want).

So, when we look at the animal model research there does appear to be some vindication to using the term "sugar addiction" however, a more accurate descriptor may addiction like tendencies towards "sweetness" in foods.

The animal model research has shown that there may be an issue of altered self-control and the development of a craving towards sugar/sweetness. There is also some data showing withdrawal symptoms (akin to drug withdrawal) in rats when overfeeding and subsequently restricting sugary/sweet foods/artificial sweeteners and, most interestingly, once sugar is introduced (even in lab rats already addicted to cocaine) the rats will almost always switch over to consuming sugary/sweet foods. This is because the reward from sugar/sweetness surpasses that of even cocaine.

What we must consider with these findings though is how transferable and applicable are these when implemented in a human model. The studies in animal models typically use;

• Genetic differences between animal and human models

• Artificial settings (these animals are bred for this purpose and are in some cases force fed extreme amounts of the nutrient / food stuff).

• Much higher dosages of sugar and or sweeteners than would ever be found in real life scenarios.

• Sugar and or sweeteners (usually artificial sweeteners) in large concentrations but also in isolation. There are very few, if any, foods that are purely sugar and I've yet to see and or hear about an individual who simply eats table sugar or drinks honey purely on there own.

In Summary (Animal Model Research);