Sugar: The Legal Drug

by | Dec 29, 2013 | Nutrition- Conscious About Food | 1 comment

Legal high concept.

© creative soul –

Sugar is in most everything we eat.  But how does it affect our bodies? What price do we pay for this indulgence? And how do the food industries promote this destructive substance to enhance their bottom line?

The word “drug” in the dictionary is defined as ‘a chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system causing changes in behavior and often addiction’.  The word “drugged” is defined as: ‘to administer a drug or poison in order to induce stupor or insensibility with a food or drink’.

Today’s over-processed foods contain an enormous amount of refined sugars and unhealthy fats.  We consume these foods everyday without a lot of thought as to the total effect it has on our body.  We can see the affect on the outside by simply looking around and noticing the amount of morbidly obese people.  However, the damage we do not see is the neurological damage.

It is believed that sugar affects the brain chemical called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).  BDNF is a key component to understanding how sugar affects our brain.  BDNF is responsible for the development of new brain tissue.  This brain tissue creates new neurons; without BDNF your brain will not develop properly.  You need as much BDFN as you can get if you want to grow, learn, and have normal brain function.1

Sugar has the same affect on your brain as morphine.

Studies have shown that diets high in sugar and fats that lack the essential fatty acids decrease BDNF.  The relationship between BDNF and sugar is very important.  Low amounts of BDNF can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and even diabetes. Essentially, high sugar in the blood leads to low BDFN; low BDFN leads to less control of the blood sugar, loss of control of blood sugars leads to worsening of blood sugar control and so on until the cycle is out of control.

 In addition to the blood sugar problems related to a low BDFN you have other diseases like depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Huntington disease, Rett syndrome and schizophrenia.  And this is only one way that refined sugar affects us.1

 When discussing sugars and fats we have to look at the way our brain is wired.  Our appetite for food and nutrients is controlled by the neuroregulatory system.  In animal studies, fat intake is increased by opioid receptors and neuropeptides and then reduced by a peptide in the pancreas.  The appetite for carbohydrates intake is increased by the neuropeptide response.  In the end, what you get is the craving of foods high in sugars and fats rather than the desire for foods that contain true nutrition.

From a neurological standpoint we should not eat sugar.

Long term consumption of a diet high in sugar and fat may have additional consequences like a neurochemical change in brain receptor sites.  A neurochemical change in a receptor site could result in eating for reward, disruption of protein intake, changes in the central nervous system and other functions of the body.2

From a neurological standpoint we should not eat sugar.  From a total health stand point we should not eat sugar.  Yet from the food industry’s standpoint sugar, sugar substitutes, and saturated fats are the key to hooking you into submission.  It has been proven that food and specific nutrients influence various aspects of the psychological state including mental performance and psychological well-being.  Over the past 40 years there have been numerous studies showing that the chemistry, structure and function of a developing and mature brain is influenced by diet.3

Different foods trigger different brain chemicals.

Looking at how sugar affects a person you have to ask why is there so much sugar in our food?   The answer is simple. Sugar creates long-term addiction through changes in brain chemistry.  Sugar added to food thru processing makes food cheaper and more appealing.  People make psychological connections between food and how they feel. These connections are made early in life and continue with us to adulthood.

Different foods trigger different brain chemicals causing a particular emotional response to the food being eaten.  Food scientists and manufacturers bank on this using everything in their power to create a connection between the consumer and their product.  It is no mistake that later on in life we turn to these “comfort foods” to re-create the desired feeling.  We have become a society of emotional eaters dining on a cheap, but legal drug.

In 2004 Morgan Spurlock produced a movie called Super Size Me.  He documented his commitment to eating only McDonald’s for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days he gained over 25 pounds and had an increase of forty percent in his cholesterol levels. Upon the completion of his film he reported that there was only one product on the McDonald’s menu that did not contain sugar. It was the tea.

Sugar has the same affect on your brain as morphine. The only difference between sugar and morphine is that sugar is legal and socially acceptable.


1Scott, Dr. (2008, November 12). What Sugar does to your brain. Retrieved from

2Levine, A.S., Kotz, C.M., & Gosnell, B.A. (2003). Sugars and fats: the neurobiology of preference. The Journal of Nutrition, 133(3), 831-834

3Best, .T, Kemps, E., & Bryan, J. (2005). Effects of saccharides on brain function and cognitive function. Nutrition Reviews, 63(12), 409-419.

4Spurlock, M. (Producer). (2004). Super size me. [Web]. Retrieved from

Anna Beller
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