Science Explains What Happens to Your Brain on Sugar

Can you quit sugar? We were told that we should, but it is very hard to do. This is because when our taste buds detect sugar: fructose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, etc. on our tongue, the so called sweet signal is processed by our brain’s reward system — the same reward system activated by sex, drugs and alcohol. Sugar is one of the few foods that activates the brain’s reward system, and is one of the reasons we get hooked and find it so hard to give up.

In this article we are going to show you how your brain reacts while it’s on sugar. On the PET brain scan you’ll notice some similarities that a person reacts in the same way to sugar as they do to cocaine which causes addiction. Surprised?

brain on sugar


  1. Sugar vs. Cocaine Consumption

The picture bellow is a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Brain Scan. It shows that a person reacts in the same way to sugar, as they do to cocaine, which causes addiction.

  1. Reviewing Dopamine

Dopamine – this chemical is produced in the part of our brain that is related with “award”. In this PET brain scan, dopamine is indicated by the red areas, which are seen more in the normal brain. You can notice that dopamine levels spikes when a person “experiences a reward”, for example, while eating a really good meal. For addicts, the opposite is true: that spike in dopamine only comes in anticipation of the reward, as opposed to the actual reward itself. Later, once the reward is gotten, the effects are blunted because the brain has been flooded with dopamine as it thought about eating.

  1. Brain Comparisons: Normal vs. Addict

First, let’s compare the dopamine receptors in each brain, between addicts and non-addicts. The top row images in the PET brain scan come from patients with addiction disorders, and the bottom row come from non-addicts.

These PTE brain scans show that addicts have fewer than average dopamine receptors (D2 receptors) in their brains, so that weaker dopamine signals are sent between cells. Their reward response is not as sensitive as a normal, non-addicted person. And they think they can compensate by over-consuming what they are addicted to. This is what sugar does to your brain — the exact same thing smoking, alcohol and cocaine do.

  1. How Bad Is Sugar For You?

The Centers for Disease Control project a double or triple-fold increase in the proportions of Americans with diabetes by 2050. Worldwide, it afflicts more than 380 million people.  And the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, that number of people living with diabetes will be more than double.  Today, diabetes takes more lives than AIDS and breast cancer combined — claiming the life of 1 American every 3 minutes.  It is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke.