Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Not Such a Sweet Deal

We are in the midst of an obesity crisis in this country, and I'm convinced high fructose corn syrup is a major culprit.
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Perhaps as addictive as cocaine, a closer look at sugar and high fructose corn syrup may help to explain America's rise in obesity, diabetes and the new focus on food addiction.

High fructose corn syrup hit the markets in the 1950s as a wonder product. Cheaper than sugar cane while still packing all the intense sweetness we associate with confectionery delights, high fructose corn syrup is now used to sweeten tons of candies, juices, colas, cookies, cakes, and creams and has even found its way into less-palatable tempting items including bread, soups, snacks and other pre-packaged foods.

Shadowing the same receptor pathways of other ingested addictive chemicals, including cocaine and opiates, high fructose corn syrup alters the transmission of certain brain chemicals, including endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which, in turn, trigger the pleasure center of our brains, leaving us wanting more. Consumption of HFCS has increased more than 1,000 percent since 1970.

A 2007 study found that intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward even in addicted and drug-sensitized subjects, leading to increased aggression upon withdrawal and a disruption of the dopamine/acetylcholine reward balance in the brain. As the alterations on brain function brought on by HFCS produce many of these hallmarks of addiction -- including intense craving, the inability to control or stop use, a pre-occupation with the substance, and withdrawal symptoms -- the idea of dessert becomes elevated to a whole new level.

It's so hard today to promote the fact that sugar -- and particularly high fructose corn syrup so overused in foods today -- is an addictive substance, leaving one wanting more and more. Unfortunately, there are still many nutritionists, dietitians, and professionals who don't believe sugar can be addictive to some people. All my years of work with eating disorder sufferers and emotional overeaters -- as well as the new scientific studies -- suggest otherwise. It's just like alcohol. Some people have no problem having a few drinks, but others cannot stop after that first drink.

We are in the midst of an obesity crisis in this country, and I'm convinced high fructose corn syrup is a major culprit. I've known this from working with disordered eating victims for decades, and now with this new scientific back up maybe we can educate the general public that for some sugar or HFCS can be the gateway drug to a life of obesity, diabetes, and/or addiction. Nothing less than the health of our nation is at stake.

If you a friend or loved one that needs treatment for an eating disorder, go to or call 1.866.931.1666.

For more by Rebecca Cooper, MA, MFT, CCH, CEDS, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

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