Is Cocaine Less Addictive than Sugar

sugarAmericans like sugar, and are eating more than ever before.  It is estimated that as individuals, we currently consume, on the average, 160 pounds of sugar per year.

What is Sugar?

Sucrose, glucose and fructose are commonly referred to as simple sugars.  While sugar is naturally occurring in whole foods, it is commonly added to processed foods to increase the flavor, and to sweeten them.  Although a person may not be able to distinguish the difference between these sugars by taste, the human body is able to tell the difference.  All three simple sugars essentially provide the same amount of per-gram energy, but the body processes and uses them differently.

Glucose is the most important simple sugar, and is the body’s preferred source of energy.  It is also called blood sugar, because it is circulated in the blood and is a key part of the body’s metabolism (the collective chemical processes by which body cells produce the substances and energy necessary for life).  Most carbohydrates which a person consumes are converted to glucose, which can be used immediately or stored for later energy needs.  The body secretes the hormone, insulin, in response to increased levels of glucose in the blood, facilitating cellular intake of the glucose.

Fructose is a simple sugar naturally occurring in many vegetables and fruits.  It is also added to fruit-flavored beverages, and soda.  It is, however, not the body’s preferred energy source, and is metabolized differently.  Fructose is also more fat-producing than glucose, and it does not stimulate the release of insulin.  Due to these factors, fructose seems to act more like fat in body.

Sucrose is obtained from sugar beets or sugar cane, and is commonly known to us as “table sugar.”  When consumed, the body separates sucrose into glucose and fructose.  The body will then use the glucose in its usual manner.  Although fructose uptake is occurring at the same time, the body still prefers glucose as its main source of energy.  Excess fructose will then be used for fat production.

Is Sugar Addictive?

James, DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist of the Kansas City, Missouri-based St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute says that refined sugar is similar to cocaine.  Refined sugar is pure sucrose (table sugar) and is made by refining raw sugar.  It is a process by which the raw sugar is softened and dissolved, coloring and impurities are removed, and the component parts of the sugar are separated.  This process yields the pure, white sugar we know as table sugar.

DiNicolantonio, who recently published a review based on dozens of studies detailing sugar as posing a greater risk than salt as a factor in heart disease; also notes that studies have found refined sugar can be even more addictive than cocaine.

Biologically, it seems that human beings are drawn to sugar as a source of helping the body store fat.  It is apparently a factor that helped mankind survive the winter cold in prehistoric times.  But the very refined sugars being consumed in current times are a much higher potency, and ingested at a much higher dose.

DiNicolantonio notes that addiction to sugar is not biological, but consuming it at certain levels over certain periods of time can alter the neurochemistry of the body.  An individual who chronically consumes sugar can experience “sugar withdrawal” and a mild state of depression due to dopamine depletion.  Dopamine is a chemical found in the brain, and is linked to experiencing pleasurable sensation.

DiNicolantonio suggests limiting sugar intake to avoid its aftereffects, which can eventually lead to pre-diabetes.  He notes that the government subsidizes corn, making high-fructose corn syrup cheaper than sugar.  As a result, it has become overwhelmingly present in our diets.  He suggests subsidizing healthy foods would be a better investment in America’s health.