Why Sugar Makes You Happy
Mother Nature invented that rewarding pleasure — the dopamine hit — to reward us whenever we do things that increase our chance of survival 1. This explains why sex, sunlight, and sugar are so pleasurable.
Our genetic makeup still hasn’t caught up with the modern lifestyle where foods are plentiful and even engineered for us to eat as much as possible. Back in the days, carbohydrates and meats were hard to come by. Fruits were not as sweet, starchy tubers were rare, and grains were barely existent. As a result, once we taste anything sweet, our brains experience a surge of dopamine so that we learn to like and eat more sweet foods 2.
Fast forward 10,000 years, the modern lifestyle constantly triggers these surges of dopamine, from the limitless quantity of sugar to constant digital stimulations, which predispose us to sugar addictions2–4.
Why is Sugar Addictive?
When the brain is constantly flooded with dopamine, the dopamine-receiving neurons start to become “resistant” to the dopamine. As a result, you will need more stimulation in order to experience the same rewarding high5. Also, whenever you don’t have access to the dopamine stimulants, you start to become irritable and moody, because your brain experiences dopamine withdrawal. The withdrawal can cause you to experience cravings and may binge in order to feel better in the short term.
Is Sugar Really As Addictive As Cocaine?
The scary part is that this is very similar to how cocaine works in the human brain. Both sugar and cocaine can create an “addiction triad”: cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal. In fact, sugar may be more addictive than cocaine2.
Becoming tolerant of sugar means that sugar addicts need more sugar in order to experience the same degree of pleasure again. Although not as bad as cocaine withdrawal, sugar withdrawal will result in symptoms of low dopamine — mild depression, ADHD symptoms, irritability, moodiness, and inability to focus 5.
In some cases, sugar addiction can worsen mental health problems and creates imbalances in the brain that increase the risk of other addictions 5,6!
Fortunately, it is possible to overcome sugar addiction given the right knowledge and tools to rebalance your brain.
How to Know if You’re a Sugar Addict
You may be addicted to sugar if you have the following:
- A sweet tooth and sugar cravings
- A reliance on sugars in order to feel good
- Frequent moodiness, irritability, or lack of focus that could be fixed by eating
- Emotional eating or eating to relieve your stress
How to Break Free from Sugar Addiction
While sugar addiction is unhealthy, it is not something to be ashamed of. The modern lifestyle constantly triggers your dopamine releases, which means that it’s a slippery slope to develop a sugar addiction. In fact, most people are addicted to sugar!
Here are the steps that will help you successfully overcome sugar addiction:
- Recognize your sugar addiction and commit to overcoming it
- Honor your body with a balanced diet and a supplement protocol as you wean off the sugar
- Manage your stress and pay attention when the stress triggers your urge to take refuge in foods
When your body and mind are well-nourished and balanced, it is possible to break free from sugar addiction without the withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Berridge, K. C. & Kringelbach, M. L. Pleasure Systems in the Brain. Neuron 86, 646–664 (2015).
- Lenoir, M., Serre, F., Cantin, L. & Ahmed, S. H. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One 2, (2007).
- Avena, N. M., Rada, P. & Hoebel, B. G. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, 20–39 (2008).
- He, Q., Turel, O. & Bechara, A. Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Sci. Rep. 7, (2017).
- Johnson, R. J. et al. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Is it time to reappraise the role of sugar consumption? Postgrad. Med. 123, 39–49 (2011).