According to a new study recently published in Scientific Reports, “sugar influences the brain in ways similar to those seen if you take addictive drugs,” IFLScience.com reports. The team of researchers even went so far as to imply this connection could be the cause of the obesity epidemic.
For this study, the researchers provided 7 minipigs with 2 liters of sugary liquid each day for 12 days. They also conducted CT scans of the pig’s brains every day for these 12 days and noticed that “their brains’ reward system, the neural structures that manage our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and opioids, were fired up ‘in a manner similar to that of drugs of abuse.’”
“There is no doubt that sugar has several physiological effects, and there are many reasons why it is not healthy,” Michael Winterdahl, Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University, and one of the main authors of this work said in a statement. “But I have been in doubt of the effects sugar has on our brain and behavior, I had hoped to be able to kill a myth.” But after just 12 short days, it was clear, not only that sugar can have such a profound effect on the brain’s dopamine and opioid systems, but that it can happen in a very short period of time.
“If sugar can change the brain’s reward system after only 12 days, as we saw in the case of the pigs, you can imagine that natural stimuli such as learning or social interaction are pushed into the background and replaced by sugar and/or other ‘artificial stimuli’”, Winterdahl said.
It is important to note that, while pigs are a strong choice for a model for this type of study, researchers can’t guarantee the results of this test would directly translate to humans. Also, the pigs were given ketamine, a powerful sedative that could also influence dopamine receptors, during parts of the study.
Read more about the study here.