Friday, July 18, 2014

The Sugar-Addiction Taboo - Robert H. Lustig - The Atlantic

"No one argues that food isn't pleasurable, or even that food doesn't activate the "reward center" of the brain. But can food truly be addictive? In the same way that alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs are?"

In the article linked here,
Robert Lustig makes the case that sugar addiction is just as real as any other.  I agree.  There's a simple model I wrote about some time back (this is it), and while it's neither proved or under research, the concepts he relates in this article point to similar pathways for sugar addiction.

The BLUF - without sugar, food does not pervert our basic drive to consume the nutrition we need.  With sugar, we behave like addicts.  My two favorite paragraphs follow:

"Which brings us to sugar. Another fun substance, full of energy, made up of two molecules linked together: glucose (kind of sweet, and not that much fun), and fructose (very sweet, and a whole lot of fun). Glucose is a nutrient, although not essential—it's so important, that if you don't eat it, your liver will make it. But what about fructose? Is fructose a nutrient? As it turns out, there's no biochemical reaction that requires dietary fructose. A rare genetic disease called Hereditary Fructose Intolerance afflicts 1 in 100,000 babies, who drop their blood sugar to almost zero and have a seizure upon their first exposure to juice from a bottle at age six months. Doctors perform a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. From that moment on, they're fructose-free for the rest of their lives. And they're among the healthiest people on the planet. Alcohol and fructose both supply energy. They're fun—but they are not nutrients."

"But oh, do we want it. As an example, rats are not big fans of lard. But if you lace the lard with some sugar (called "cookie dough"), that's another story — indeed, in a controversial abstract at this year's Society for Neuroscience meeting, rats were found to prefer Oreos to cocaine. And we humans are not far behind. A recent study by Dr. Eric Stice of Oregon Health Sciences University looked at our obsession, by parsing out the fat from the sugar. Subjects laying in an MRI scanner consumed milkshakes where the fat and the sugar concentrations were dialed up or down.  Bottom line, fat stimulated the somatosensory cortex (in other words, "mouthfeel"), but only sugar stimulated the reward center. And adding fat to the sugar didn't increase the reward any further. This study shows we want sugar way more than we want fat."

Lustig's hot for government action, but of course, government action has been the sugar industry's best friend for a long time.  I'd prefer the government just stayed out of our food, so that government cannot be highjacked but the highest bidders.

But for you and for me the message is simple.  Alcohol, sugar, driving, shooting guns, swimming pools, motorcycles - high risk, handle with care.

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