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Alarming Situation: Sugar has Addiction as Alcohol or Cocaine


INTERVIEW - According to Serge Ahmed, director of research at the French Institute, the abundance of products very rich in added sugars exposes us to a real risk of addiction.

Serge Ahmed. - Absolutely. We must remember what the two kinds of addiction are, one with substance, and the other without, that is to say behavioral - like addiction to video games, compulsive shopping, etc. In both cases, the central element concerns the loss of self-control, which must be identified according to a series of diagnostic criteria.

For example, the compelling, overpowering and intrusive desire to consume a substance. Either the desire or the persistent efforts to end or limit consumption - a criterion very often present. Or the fact of consuming more than desired: for example, for alcohol, it is the person saying that he will drink one or two glasses, and who ultimately drops two to three bottles. To come back to sugar, we check all these criteria.

How many of these sugar addicts are there?

In France, I am not aware of studies estimating the frequency of this addiction on a population scale. But in the United States, Canada or Germany, where such work has been carried out, sugar addiction would affect 5 to 10% of people.

How is sugar addiction different from other types of addiction?
The difference is due to the diagnostic criteria: the more they are, the more the dependence is pronounced. An addiction is judged to be weak when it ticks two to three criteria, moderate from four to five criteria, and severe when six or more criteria are present. For sugar, as well as for alcohol or tobacco, the majority of those affected have a moderate addiction. The question of withdrawal is an important element: going without sugar is incommensurate with withdrawal from alcohol or opiates, but it can vary depending on the individual.
Most importantly, our studies and many others have shown that sugar has as great an addictive potential as that of the most addictive drugs in humans - alcohol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. We now know that chronic and prolonged consumption of sugar causes - as with other drugs - lasting biological changes in the brain.

How did we understand that sugar was a problematic substance?

The awareness of the problem dates back to around ten years. The obesity epidemic has been found to be linked to a dramatic change in the food environment, with the abundance of industrial products high in added sugars - including sodas. And one then suspected a loss of addictive control in some of the sugar over consumers. With several tracks to explain it.
In nature, where our human species has evolved, we find fruits that contain little sugar, while the industry allows us to produce highly concentrated products. Our body is not prepared for these high doses, and we can draw a parallel with the emergence of alcoholism, which dates from the invention of strong alcohols, or the addiction to cocaine, absent in time of consumption of coca leaves.

In addition, our body is not able to optimally metabolize sugar in liquid form, that offered in products of the food industry. Finally, there is no "fat and sweet" in nature. However, this association creates a powerful taste stimulus: a neuroimaging study has just shown that sugar coupled with fat amplifies the activation signal of the reward circuit in our brain.

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