Neuroscientist explains: How sugar affects the brain

By Jordanna Levin |

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole M. Avena is an expert in nutrition, diet and addiction. Which makes her a fountain of knowledge about how sugar affects our brains.

We asked Dr Avena to explain the nitty-gritty science behind why sugar is so addictive and what happens to our brain when we eat it.

“The key is to treat sugar like a drug and act in ways that satisfy your appetite, not your addiction.”

– Dr Nicole M. Avena, neuroscientist.

How sugar affects the brain, by Dr Avena:

  1. Sugary foods are easy to consume and trigger pleasure in the brain. These foods can produce both behavior and brain changes that resemble addiction.
  2. Dopamine is released in the brain when a person consumes both sugar and illicit drugs, producing a “high”. Increased (sugar/drug) use stimulates the craving for even more of the substance, so the brain requires increased amounts of the (sugar/drug) to arrive at the same level of dopamine release as a smaller dose would have previously generated. Check here for the evidence.
  3. Adaptability refers to the body’s ability to develop an addiction to sugary food with increased exposure to it. Those who currently do not have a sugar addiction could develop one by – you guessed it – over-consuming sugar.

Want to know more about the ways sugar affects the brain? Check out this great animated video we posted on the blog recently.

Dr. Nicole M. Avena is a research neuroscientist/psychologist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction. Her research achievements have been honoured by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eating Disorders Association.




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