How Does Childhood Sugar Consumption Increase Eating Disorder and Addiction Risks?

Source: Elisa Azzali / Wikicommons

Source: Elisa Azzali / Wikicommons

Eating too many sweets has been associated with numerous health risks later in life, but a new study sheds light into why excessive childhood sugar intake may be associated with substance abuse and eating disorders later in life.

The study, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, finds that eating too much sugar at an early age can make you enjoy sweet foods later-in-life. While this seems minor, the change is likely related to changes in the brain’s reward system which can increase later chances of risky behavior.

For the study, researchers observed rats who ate too much sugar during adolescence, and monitored brain activity. In particular, the team focused on the brain region known as the nucleus accumbens, which plays an essential role in monitoring the reward circuits in the brain.

The researchers noted that activity in the nucleus accumbens of rats fed excessive sugar when young decreased significantly by the time they reached adulthood. As this change occurred, the researchers say the rats also stopped enjoying sweet food as much.

The results help support past findings which suggest people develop a sort of tolerance to sweets as they consumed more. The effect is a need to consume more to feel the same pleasant effects, similar to that of drugs. However, the researchers say they findings do not paint a clear picture of how this process occurs.

“In spite of the dramatic increase in the consumption of sweet palatable foods during adolescence in our modern societies, the long-term consequences of such exposure on brain reward processing remain poorly understood,” said Dr. Martine Cador, senior author of the study, in the press release.

While more research is needed, the team says the findings are cause for concern because it may contribute to substance abuse or eating disorders. They also note overconsumption of sugar has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, altered brain structure, and increased symptoms in teens with depression and anxiety.

“Chronic stimulation of the reward system might constitute an important factor in vulnerability to pathological development,” write the authors.

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