You probably know that you need to cut down on your sugar consumption. Once you see these issues it causes with the brain, you might be quicker to do so. Sugar is often the most desired taste for a person. Along with salt, the craving for sugar can easily get out of control. The problem is, it is more than just “having a sweet tooth” and there are various effects of sugar on the brain to know of.
Often times it’s not you that’s wanting the sugar but your brain or your gut. Its powerful effects can change your body chemistry and it’s not too extreme to say it acts like a drug in your body. We’ve become more aware of the damaging effects of sugar as far as certain diseases.
Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease all have connections to sugar. But it goes deeper than that. Sugar can cause different effects on your brain that may alarm you. This article will look at 4 of these main effects.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
As a species, we’re designed to crave sugar. It’s a source of quick energy that is rapidly absorbed in the bloodstream. This is great for moments when quick physical exertion is needed.
The problem is, the sugar we’ve been designed to eat was only from a few select things. Paleolithic people would only have had access to sugar in the form of ripe fruit and possibly honey. This sugar would have been available for just a short time each year.
Today, you have access to an avalanche of sugar all day, every day. And the type of sugar we are consuming has changed. It is a much more concentrated form such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. Some other forms of sugar you will come across include:
- Fruit juice
- Raw sugar
Your body is no match for these hyper sweet variations, and even though you crave it in a natural form, these manufactured sugars are much more harmful and addictive.
The other big problem is that the processed sugar we eat is not only addictive, but it also doesn’t provide any nutrients while still having a high amount of calories. Your body has received sweetness but does not get any nutrients the way you would with a sweet piece of fruit.
You are still starving on a cellular level, so your body continues to be hungry for the nutrition it deserves. Then there is the issue with blood sugar. Processed sugar causes big spikes in blood sugar, which leads to the inevitable crash.
When your blood sugar drops too low, you become irritable, hungry, and craving more sugar. Sugar now has taken hold of you with this constant craving mechanism causing you to always want it.
This is a general look at how sugar impacts your body, but what are some specific effects of sugar on the brain?
1. Sugar Affects Your Cerebral Cortex
If you eat a chocolate bar, the sugar in it activates your sweet taste receptors on the tongue. These receptors send a signal up to your brain stem and then takes many paths around your brain. One area it hits is the cerebral cortex.
The cerebral cortex has different sections that process different kinds of tastes. This is where your brain’s reward system is and sugar helps to stimulate it.
This system is a bunch of electrical and chemical pathways across your brain. The mechanism gives you that warm fuzzy feeling associated with sugar and treats and tells you that this is something you should do again. This is the same mechanism that is triggered by drug use.
2. Sugar Makes Your Brain Crave More Of It
The cerebral cortex rewards you for consuming sugar, as it creates a drug-like feel-good effect. The problem is: eating too much sugar (which is also addictive in other ways like blood sugar spikes) over activates this reward system. This leads to some real problems in the brain.
You’re now looking at a loss of control and more craving for the thing that stimulated you in the first place. With something like love, this is a good thing to crave. With sugar, it’s a problem.
3. Your Brain Gets More Tolerant To Sugar
When we say how sugar is a drug in the body, this is no joke. Just like the brain and body can become tolerant to drugs – and need more – the same thing happens with sugar. This is one of the most damaging effects of sugar on the brain.
Dopamine is the main feel-good chemical released by the brain, and the more sugar you eat, the more the brain gets tolerant of it. Since your body craves this dopamine release, it needs more and more sugar to release it.
Therefore, when you find yourself getting up from the couch and looking in the cupboard for cookies, it’s not really you doing this – it’s your brain.
4. Your Brain Physically Changes
Those who have a sugar addiction really have a dopamine addiction. This is the main issue with those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some foods can cause this but none like sugar. Since the brain has turned into such a constant reward center, the look of it starts to change.
When you compare a PET brain scan of a normal brain and one addicted to sugar, the sugar addict has fewer dopamine receptors. Now, weaker dopamine signals are sent between the cells almost like it’s starting to get burnt out. Your reward system is getting broken and is no longer as sensitive as a normal person.
Now you believe you can consume in excess of what would be normal for sugar intake, which is not much different from that craving nicotine, alcohol or even cocaine.
Don’t forget, this is what’s happening at the brain level, but think about what this amount of sugar and calories is physically doing to the body. Diabetes and obesity are another side effect that comes from sugar addiction.
Having a bit of sugar now and then is really not a big deal – as long as you can keep it under control. When it’s not, you see now the effects of sugar on the brain. The first way to combat this is to remove any added sugar from your diet.
When you have sugar cravings, turn to the more natural forms such as honey, fruit, or even dark chocolate. You’ll always crave sugar, you just want to make sure you are refraining from the manufactured and processed sugar which the brain is no match against.