It might seem obvious: people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight or to be obese. Most research supports this intuitive finding. The big exception: when researchers receive support from the sugar and beverage industries they are much less likely to make the connection.
By Dr. Mercola
There is no shortage of research linking excessive sugar consumption with obesity, and the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages appears to have a particularly strong link.
It was five years ago when UCLA researchers found that adults who drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.1
Even those who only drank soda occasionally had a 15 percent greater risk, and a growing number of studies have linked rising childhood obesity rates to increased consumption of sugary beverages as well.
Still, as a general rule the beverage industry has denied or strongly downplayed its role in the childhood and adult obesity epidemics. At times, they have even presented research that appears to back up their argument. But the story has another layer, thanks to a new paper published in PLOS Medicine.2
This meta-analysis of systematic reviews reveals that, as is often the case with pharmaceutical research, beverage industry-funded research is much more likely to produce results that favor the industry.
Sugar Addiction Is Real
Endocrinologist Robert Lustig is one of the most well known crusaders speaking the truth about the clinical dangers of excessive sugar consumption, including its ability to cause an addiction similar to that caused by illegal drugs, including cocaine. When you eat refined processed sugars, they trigger production of your brain's natural opioids — a key ingredient in the addiction process.
Your brain essentially becomes addicted to stimulating the release of its own opioids as it would to morphine or heroin. Writing in The Atlantic,4 Dr. Lustig takes on the debate of whether sugar is truly addictive, and essentially proves that it very well is:
- According to a recent animal study, Oreo cookies are just as addictive as cocaine or morphine, activating more neurons in your brain's pleasure center than exposure to illicit drugs5
- Rats exposed to sugar water demonstrate all the criteria necessary to diagnose addiction: binging, withdrawal, craving and addiction transfer (or addiction to other substances as well)6
- You want sugar even more than you want fat, as evidenced by a recent study that showed sugar, but not fat, stimulated your brain's reward center7
As Dr. Lustig states, 77 percent of food items in US grocery stores contain added sugar. So it's no wonder that, while the American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar limit of six teaspoons for women and nine for men, the average American consumes more like 22. And the more sugar you eat, the more you're going to want. Dr. Lustig continued:
“In the reward center, sugar stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, and dopamine drives reward. But dopamine also down-regulates its own receptor (which generates the reward signal). This means the next time round, you're going to need more sugar to generate more dopamine to generate less reward, and so on, until you're consuming a whole lot of sugar, and getting almost nothing for it. That's tolerance, and sugar is guilty as charged.”