Why Does Sugar Make Us Feel So Good?

Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill

You know what it’s like: 3pm on a Friday afternoon and you’re willing the work day to be over. You’re bored, tired and you can’t stop yawning. You know just what you need! You head down to the vending machine in the lobby, insert your coins and out pops a Snickers bar, or a Twix, or maybe both. You start unwrapping it in the elevator and have half of it gone by the time you get back to your desk. Suddenly, you’re more awake, you feel alive and… happy? For an hour or so, anyway. How is it that something as simple as a sugar rush can make us feel so good? The science is startling.

While scientists are finally beginning to come around to the idea that sugar is actually addictive, it wasn’t always known exactly what reaction it caused in the brain. You’ll have heard of dopamine by now, the neurotransmitter that controls our brain’s pleasure center and makes us feel happy and content. While positive things like exercise and sexual activity naturally send dopamine levels soaring, so do less healthy things like drugs and – wait for it – sugar!

Many of us are prone to addiction, which means when we send our dopamine levels sky high, we’re bound to want more of what did it, and sugar is a prime suspect. And considering how quickly our insulin levels rise upon eating a sweet treat and then crash again soon after (carb coma, anyone?), the need to continuously eat more in order to keep that high going gets more and more serious. While I don’t think anyone would compare the seriousness of sugar addiction to that of heroin or cocaine, the effects on the brain are shockingly similar.

So what does this all mean? Well, if you’re prone to sugar cravings – as most of us as human beings are hard-wired to be – eat sweet treats with caution and sparingly. Otherwise, you may just find yourself on a slippery slope into addiction.

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