Melbourne | People addicted to sugar should be treated in the same way as drug abusers, according to a world-first study. Drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could be used to treat sugar addiction in animals, researchers said.
The latest World Health Organisation figures tell us 1.9 billion people worldwide are overweight, with 600 million considered obese, said Selena Bartlett from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia.
Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine, Bartlett said.
After long-term consumption, this leads to the opposite, a reduction in dopamine levels. This leads to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward, researchers said.
They found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation. Our study found that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs like varenicline, a prescription medication trading as Champix which treats nicotine addiction, can work the same way when it comes to sugar cravings, said Bartlett.
Interestingly, our study also found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin could produce effects similar to those we obtained with table sugar, highlighting the importance of reevaluating our relationship with sweetened food per se, said Masroor Shariff from QUT.
Varenicline acted as a neuronal nicotinic receptor modulator (nAChR) and similar results were observed with other such drugs including mecamylamine and cytisine, researchers said. Further studies are required but our results do suggest that current FDA-approved nAChR drugs may represent a novel new treatment strategy to tackle the obesity epidemic, said Bartlett.
Subscribe to our email newsletter.