Doctor: Sugar affects the brain like a drug

- Sugar is calming, soothing, comfortable, fun and affects the brain, just like a drug.

"If you look at the way sugar is processed and the addictive quality to it, it often mirrors drugs that are known as opiates," says Dr. Harris Stratyner, a psychologist who specializes in addiction and recovery. He calls himself "an admitted sugar addict."

"If I eat a candy bar, I'm not making this up, a regular full-sized candy bar, you could call my wife, I'll eat six," he says. Consuming sugar increases the brain's level of dopamine, a chemical leading us to feel pleasure, he says. But every sweet we eat raises our body's tolerance, causing cravings and requiring more and more sugar to achieve the same positive feelings.

"Just like heroine would," Dr. Stayner says.

The so-called sugar-high gives the user energy, exuberance and focus but without many of the short-term hangovers, crashes or sloppiness associated with other drugs. Sources of sugar are also far cheaper and easier to find.

"America's a very sugar-oriented country," Dr. Stayner says.

The average American consumes nearly 76 pounds of sugar every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But while deserts and the endless containers of tasty treats may come immediately to mind, sugar also exists in many of the staples of our daily diets.

"There are many more people who are addicted to sugar than are addicted to drugs and alcohol," Dr. Stayner says.

And while the short-term impacts may appear minimal, in the long-term our national sugar addiction can lead to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. And should we attempt to cut it from our diets completely, as Dr. Stratyner says he has done, can also trigger withdrawal.

"Sugar can kill you," he says.

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