Sweet lovin’

Are our sweet-toothed cravings and tendencies really as bad as a drug dependency? Anthony McGarry searches for truth

9th November 2015

Let’s face it, most of us get cravings for sugar. Whether it be wanting dessert after a meal, after a long day or even halfway through writing an essay (or an article about sugar). But when can a ‘craving’ be considered an addiction?

There is dispute as to whether a reliance on sugar can be classed as a fully-fledged addiction; for starters, there have been no observed bodily responses during a withdrawal period similar to that of drug addiction (and no, crying when you find that the last Kit-Kat’s gone coming back in from a night out doesn’t count). There is also the fact that generally, it’s not the inclusion of sugar in a food that induces a good feeling, but the combination of sugar and fat that gives the body a good feeling.

Sugar is a bit of an umbrella term for different carbohydrates, many of which are found in foods, such as glucose, sucrose and fructose. When you eat a sugar, it is detected by taste receptors on the front of your tongue, and a signal is sent straight up to your brain. This signal then activates a chemical reward system, a system which is present to tell you whether something you’ve experienced is good or bad, and whether or not to do it again.

“Dopamine also responds to things like alcohol, nicotine and drugs and encourages the body to seek more of the same”

When the sugar reaches your stomach, signals are sent once more, however, this time an important neurotransmitter called dopamine is produced. This dopamine also responds to things like alcohol, nicotine and drugs and encourages the body to seek more of the same. When you take in sugar, your tolerance to sugar is increased, meaning you’d need a higher level of sugar to get the same positive feeling again.

Unfortunately though, it’s not all sunshine and dopamine when it comes to sugar intake. Everyone knows the main negative effects of too much sugar in terms of weight gain and diabetes, but increased sugar intake can put your body at risk of a whole host of other problems, most of all, quite severe damage to the liver. And then there’s the big C.

Sugar has been linked and unlinked to increased likelihood of getting cancer a lot, especially in the past 10 years (just think of any daily mail ‘health’ article), but the direct link between the two aren’t really that strong. NHS choices summarises it like this: “it is known that healthier diets and lifestyles are associated with a lower risk of cancer. A healthier lifestyle includes limiting sugar intake.” Basically, you can’t pin an increased risk to cancer to just one thing, you can only minimise it by living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

So really, it’s normal to fancy an extra slice of cake, or completely finish off the last of your flatmates brownies from home, but as with everything in life, it must be taken in moderation.

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