An addictive substance is characterized by its ability to cause pleasant feelings, to cause long-term changes in the brain, to lead to physical dependence and to cause cravings, according to the website Research Penn State. Scientists debate whether sugar is physically addictive because it might not cause physical dependence, according to Jan Ulbrecht, associate professor in Biobehavioral Health and Medicine at Penn State University. However, long-term overindulgence in sugary food can have lasting consequences for your health.
Sugar's Effect on the Brain
Sugar might not cause physical addiction, but it does increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine regulates feelings of pleasure and is a key chemical involved in the formation of an addiction, according to Sue Grigson, associate professor of Neural and Behavioral Sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine. While scientists disagree about whether this reaction is powerful enough to warrant labeling it an addictive substance, this dopamine reaction might be strong enough to cause some people to eat more sugar.
The physical effects of eating too much sugar have short- and long-term consequences for your health. Consuming too much sugar leads to weight gain and the increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Eating a diet high in sugar can also increase your risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure. In addition, according to a 2007 study in the "Journal of Clinical Investigation," consuming too much sugar can cause an imbalance in estrogen and testosterone, which can cause acne, infertility and increase the risk for uterine cancer.
Healthy Amounts of Sugar
You do need sugar in your diet. You must have a healthy level of glucose in your metabolism for your brain to function properly and to fuel your metabolism. However, the amount of sugar that you need is small. Women only need 6 teaspoons of sugar per day and men need 9 teaspoons to maintain optimal brain and metabolic function, according to registered dietician Melissa Ohlson at Clevelandclinic.org. However, you get nearly all of this sugar by eating fruit, vegetables, dairy products and grains.
Reversing the Damage
You can reduce the damage that you might have done to your body through the over-consumption of sugar by eating a healthful diet and getting sufficient exercise. If you are already suffering from heart disease, diabetes or another debilitating effect of eating too much sugar, consult your physician for help with developing an appropriate diet and exercise plan. If you believe that you are addicted to sweets, the best strategy is to stay away from them entirely. Do not keep them in the house or at your office.
- Research Penn State: Is Sugar Addictive?
- Science Daily: Too Much Sugar Turns off Gene that Controls Effects of Sex Hormones
- Cleveland Clinic: Eating Too Much Sugar? It's Time to Tame Your Sweet Tooth
- CNN Health: Can I Break My Sugar Addiction?
- Psychology Today; Sugar Addiction In Your Body, Not Just Your Mind