How sugar affects the brain – Nicole Avena


Picture warm, gooey cookies, crunchy candies, velvety cakes, waffle cones piled high with ice cream. Is your mouth watering? Are you craving dessert? Why? What happens in the brain
that makes sugary foods so hard to resist? Sugar is a general term
used to describe a class of molecules called carbohydrates, and it’s found in a wide variety
of food and drink. Just check the labels
on sweet products you buy. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, and starch are all forms of sugar. So are high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, raw sugar, and honey. And sugar isn’t just
in candies and desserts, it’s also added to tomato sauce, yogurt, dried fruit,
flavored waters, or granola bars. Since sugar is everywhere,
it’s important to understand how it affects the brain. What happens when sugar hits your tongue? And does eating a little bit of sugar
make you crave more? You take a bite of cereal. The sugars it contains activate
the sweet-taste receptors, part of the taste buds on the tongue. These receptors send a signal
up to the brain stem, and from there, it forks off
into many areas of the forebrain, one of which is the cerebral cortex. Different sections of the cerebral cortex
process different tastes: bitter, salty, umami, and, in our case, sweet. From here, the signal activates
the brain’s reward system. This reward system is a series
of electrical and chemical pathways across several different
regions of the brain. It’s a complicated network, but it helps answer a single,
subconscious question: should I do that again? That warm, fuzzy feeling you get
when you taste Grandma’s chocolate cake? That’s your reward system saying, “Mmm, yes!” And it’s not just activated by food. Socializing, sexual behavior, and drugs are just a few examples
of things and experiences that also activate the reward system. But overactivating this reward system
kickstarts a series of unfortunate events: loss of control, craving,
and increased tolerance to sugar. Let’s get back to our bite of cereal. It travels down into your stomach
and eventually into your gut. And guess what? There are sugar receptors here, too. They are not taste buds,
but they do send signals telling your brain that you’re full or that your body should
produce more insulin to deal with the extra sugar
you’re eating. The major currency
of our reward system is dopamine, an important chemical or neurotransmitter. There are many dopamine
receptors in the forebrain, but they’re not evenly distributed. Certain areas contain dense
clusters of receptors, and these dopamine hot spots
are a part of our reward system. Drugs like alcohol, nicotine, or heroin send dopamine into overdrive, leading some people
to constantly seek that high, in other words, to be addicted. Sugar also causes dopamine to be released,
though not as violently as drugs. And sugar is rare
among dopamine-inducing foods. Broccoli, for example, has no effect, which probably explains why it’s so hard to get
kids to eat their veggies. Speaking of healthy foods, let’s say you’re hungry
and decide to eat a balanced meal. You do, and dopamine levels spike
in the reward system hot spots. But if you eat that same dish
many days in a row, dopamine levels will spike less and less,
eventually leveling out. That’s because when it comes to food, the brain evolved to pay special attention
to new or different tastes. Why? Two reasons: first, to detect food that’s gone bad. And second, because the more variety
we have in our diet, the more likely we are
to get all the nutrients we need. To keep that variety up, we need to be able
to recognize a new food, and more importantly, we need
to want to keep eating new foods. And that’s why the dopamine levels off
when a food becomes boring. Now, back to that meal. What happens if in place
of the healthy, balanced dish, you eat sugar-rich food instead? If you rarely eat sugar
or don’t eat much at a time, the effect is similar
to that of the balanced meal. But if you eat too much,
the dopamine response does not level out. In other words, eating lots of sugar
will continue to feel rewarding. In this way, sugar behaves
a little bit like a drug. It’s one reason people seem
to be hooked on sugary foods. So, think back to all those
different kinds of sugar. Each one is unique,
but every time any sugar is consumed, it kickstarts a domino effect in the brain
that sparks a rewarding feeling. Too much, too often,
and things can go into overdrive. So, yes, overconsumption of sugar
can have addictive effects on the brain, but a wedge of cake once
in a while won’t hurt you.

100 thoughts on “How sugar affects the brain – Nicole Avena”

  1. When I eat something sweet, I only like it till 2-3 bites, then I feel saturated. I feel like I can't take any more sweet now, I want something spicy or salty. Can somebody explain this to me? Or does somebody relate?

  2. Most people feel that eating foods with refined sugar once or twice a day is eating it "once in a while", lol! The brain fools you when you want to be fooled. When you really quit refined sugar, you don't even want it once in a while. Like you just don't feel like it on top of not needing it.

  3. استمرر في ترجمة للغة العربية ارجوكم 😍😍😘😘✌🏻✌🏻✌🏻✌🏻

  4. Can you tell me why some people hate sugar 🤢🤢?
    Please🙏🙏💓
    Please🙏🙏💓
    I'm the one who hate sugar🤐

  5. Is Her voice seems like Meredith grey’s from grey’s anatomy?? , or maybe it’s just me watching this show constantly 😂

  6. I think broccoli is the best vegetable ever, it's crunchy (not hard to tear) and easy to swallow (easy to tear and not stuck in your throat).

  7. It's hard to believe that the West especially the Americans have such a poor understanding of the very basic thing in life…..food.
    They run after everything artificial.

  8. honestly i don’t crave any sugary foods, it disgusts me, but i once got benzos for longer than i should have and ever since i crave opioids (kratom, imodium, lorazepam etc.)

  9. Eating lots of sugary foods give us wrinkles and make us old.

    I guess this is more than enough motivation for me to ditch chocolate biscuits and cold coffee cause my crush doesn't even look at me. 😑😩

  10. Sugar has a very important place in our lives.Everyone tries to stop using it.but nobody thinks like "if i stop it,can i get used to tasteless stuff?"

  11. 물질및경험 대뇌피질 보상시스템 반복유도
    내장속 당분 수용체 도파민 도파민 수용체가 몰려있는부분 보상회로 약물 도파민고농도유지 중독
    브로콜리 도파민x
    동일반복 도파민수치 낮아져 새음식영양소
    고당분 보상느낌유지 고도파민 중독

  12. Basically what they say is sugar is an addictive drug, but it won't hurt you. I wonder if they got paid for saying that.

  13. I gave up sugar for 6 months. Relapsed at Christmas dinner. Peach pie. Been back on the stuff ever since. https://youtu.be/788mzIhn4_Y

  14. I do not know how sugar affects my Brain.
    But I do know how Insulin affects my Brain.
    I am a Diabetic Type 1 on Insulin.

  15. Sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugars sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar

  16. I don't understand… If humans evolved their tastebuds in order to lessen their dopamine levels for repetitive meals, then what was the evolutionary advantage of sugar not having the same effect?

  17. This is psedoscience. Sugar (healthy carbohydrates) are good for you and essential in providing energy for the body and for memory. Not to mention digestion, hydration… I could go on. Notice how they conflate healthy carbs like honey or fruit with high fructose corn syrup. I'll be taking a look at their sponsors.

  18. Addiction is a part of psychology. Anything you want that is not an absolute need from fight or flight responses should be considered a part of the dopamine reward system. Certain rewards require more work to get the 'high'; you can consider love like the grandest drug of all, because fundamentally, it operates no differently. So choose your poison–every good feeling comes from somewhere unpleasant–the only significance is how much pain we end up with over-all.

  19. I don't seem to get any dopamine high when I eat sugar. I do know that the brain uses hydrocarbons in it's cells for metabolism, that we must have hydrocarbons and when insulin pushes them into cells and the brain has none we go unconscious. We were taught that sugar is just empty calories or an energy source that has no vitamins therefore don't eat too much sugar.

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