In the most wide-ranging population weight study ever performed, researchers found that 266 million men and 375 million women were obese worldwide in 2014, and that these figures will get rapidly worse over the next decade.
That study found that obesity in men has more than trebled from 3.2 percent in 1975, to 10.8 percent in 2014. In women, it has more than doubled from 6.4 to 14.9 percent.
As obesity skyrockets, the world’s addiction to sugar becomes cast out into the light. A shocking study conducted by researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) shows that reversing this trend in expanding waistlines will be no easy task — humans are addicted to sugar.
Previous research has shown that sugar can be addictive, but in contrast, it was thought to be a psychological addiction, not a physical one. However, the new evidence suggests that sugar creates a biochemical dependency. What’s more is that a sugar addiction can lead to withdrawals similar to that of morphine and cocaine.
“Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain,” Professor Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist from the university’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation said. “It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine.
“We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation.”
The study found that long-term consumption of sugar eventually decreases dopamine levels which leads to higher levels of sugar intake to avoid depression.
“Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them,” Bartlett said.
This study coincides with a 2015 review by Dr James DiNicolantonio on the dangers of sugar, who noted, “When you look at animal studies comparing sugar to cocaine, even when you get the rats hooked on IV cocaine, once you introduce sugar, almost all of them switch to the sugar.”
This biochemical dependency on sugar could explain why antidepressant use has skyrocketed. As individuals attempt to rein in their waistlines, the decreased intake of sugar leads to a reduction in dopamine production, in turn, fostering an environment for depression. The subsequent result is a visit to the doctor who in turn prescribes pills.
Professor Bartlett added: “Our study found that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs like varenicline, a prescription medication trading as Champix which treats nicotine addiction, can work the same way when it comes to sugar cravings.”
Over the long term, sugar consumption leads to weight gain, increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels — plus a higher risk for diabetes, cancer and heart disease which means quitting the addiction now should be the priority.
Plus, the long-term benefits of cutting back on added sugar in your diet are impossible to ignore. One study published in the journal Circulation, showed that sugar-sweetened drinks directly cause the cardiovascular disease and diabetes that kill about 184,000 people worldwide every year.
Instead of immediately resorting to antidepressants to treat the withdrawals, there are many other ways to stave off the cold sweats.
“The ultimate goal is to really downplay sugar in the diet and have that be a permanent lifestyle change,” says Bethany Doerfler, RD, LDN, and a clinical research dietitian at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
“Some patients feel that taking a moderate approach doesn’t really work for them and they need to go cold turkey,” Doerfler says. “But for most people, I recommend cleaning up one meal at a time and then progressing onto the next meal the following day.”
Your efforts to cut back on sugar will pay off though. “In the short term, people will notice their energy levels improve right away and after a short period of time they will notice cravings and fatigue diminishes,” Doerfler says.