“Sugar Addiction” & Dopamine, real or fake news?

As presented on an ascending scale of science… ness.
“Sugar is as addictive as cocaine”… someone who’s clearly never tried cocaine.

Counter Argument – Level 1 (Personal anecdote/observation. ie NOT Science)

Why aren’t people walking around drinking powerade, or sugar water constantly. or distilling it down to an injectable form?
Q: Do you know how expensive drugs are? A: A fair bit more costly than a pack of sugar.
Name a delicious/craving inducing food that is ONLY high sugar…
Bread? maybe… but have you tried a a peanut butter or nutella sandwich? = Some carbs/sugar +hella fats
Cereal? Kinda… but it’s not like you’re adding it to water are you? Way better with milk!  = High Carbs/sugar +hella fats
Lollies, sure! But I don’t know about you, but I don’t often see people going through a bag of lollies a day.
Coke/Soft Drinks/juice? 100% these can present a problem. But again, here it’s the flavourings+sugar, not the sugar itself, or people would just go a cheaper option and drink sugar water constantly.

Counter Argument – Level 2 (more rant, some science)
It’s worth noting here that Dopamine is both a Hormone and a Neurotransmitter)
  • Sugar triggers Dopamine (DA) receptor activation
DA (and every hormone) is highly, highly, INCREDIBLY, context dependant. read that one more time for emphasis.
Let’s list things that trigger DA in certain contexts:
  • Sugar (in highly palatable foods)
  • Not getting sugar (in highly palatable foods)
  • Anticipation of Sugar
  • Your smart phone, inc. all notifications
  • Fetish Porn, inc. and not limited to Whips, Chains, Step-relatives, Shoes, Needles and anything else that gets you twisted little h*cks off. 🙂
The context dependancy of Dopamine is highly affected by your mental state & your perceptions towards situations.
“Taboo”, often triggers a Dopamine release. So does anticipation of pleasure, in fact. Anticipation has more of a release of Dopamine than the actual attainment of the goal.
Sugar, may very well CORRELATE with the stimulus for for Dopamine release ie Food. But guess what, in the cases of  people on the TV Show “My Strange Addiction”, I bet you the same correlation would apply for Couches, Sand or Cat hair, in the people addicted to eating those.
I don’t know about you, but it seems hardly fair to blame Cat hair for “causing” some people to eat it. If the stimulus was non-context dependant then people who be going around trying to get arrested for that sweet, sweet dopamine release of handcuffs, and Step-Mothers would be to blame for the, frankly, terrifyingly popular use of that trope (same for Pizza-Guys in the 90’s… though maybe it’s still the sugar in the pizza? 😉 ).

Counter Argument 3 (Science)
Dopamine works very differently depending on which pathway it’s acting in. The Mesolimbic system, is predominantly the system we’re interested with regards to sugar; here it plays a neurotransmitter role in the “Dopaminergic-Reward System”.
Here’s where the most studies are done which go from largely boring, animal model headlines and become adulterated into Newspaper Headlines and Netflix “Documentaries” (Docu-drama/comedy).
…Unfortunately (to reference one of my favourite books on subjects like this;) “I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That”
(by Ben Goodacre).
While it’s absolutely true (well supported) that Dopamine plays a critical role in pleasure seeking and reward, it’s role is very much a grey area:
On the one hand we do have the well studied role of DA pathway altering in addiction. Though consider the cases of addicted long-term addicts who report getting no more pleasurable response from the drugs they seek, but still feel compelled to chase and consume more. Okay so, that’s a tick in the box of Sugar addiction, right?
I mean, maybe?
But Dopamine also plays a similar role in the anticipatory response in the cases of fetishes.
In both cases Dopamine is very much involved in the anticipation of the reward, almost more so that the attainment of the reward itself. Consider Gamblers who get a strong Dopamine release from a “near-miss” more so than from a actual win.
Because here’s another point; DA & the mesolimbic pathway also plays a role in the motivation and reward of AVOIDING negative stimulus. Ie PTSD Stress signalling in war veterans.  AKA The Veteran with PTSD running screaming out of a shopping centre because a light trolley collision reminded them of Nam’ in 68, is also experiencing a flood of Dopamine-driven motivation.
We also know it’s a key role in goal setting and motivation, in fact, Dopamine may be one of the key hormones involved in actually adhering to your diets… see, a little back and forth here.
The key message is this:
It’s never the fault of the Hormone. From Testosterone, to Oxytocin, to Dopamine. Humans are amazingly complex, and function in a world completely different to any other animal in regards to our social interactions and situationally dependant actions and side-effects.
Ultimately, there is a reason Endocrinology exists. And it’s not so Newspapers can write about diet.
A reminder that even at that level, the physiological mechanism are other thing, real world behavioural outcome are another thing completely!
In closing; the body is gahd damn complicated.
    • The current body of evidence shows that Sugar very likely DOES NOT cause addiction. At least not via the Sugar = Dopamine argument.
    • There are lots of important factors to consider when it comes to eating healthy, worrying about Sugar Rehab probably isn’t one of them.
    • Anything you read that attributes a Behavioural Outcome to a single factor, be that hormone, neurotransmitter, or especially FOOD. I can promise you it’s a gross oversimplification, at best.
Send this to someone who’s cut out Sugar from their diet 😉
Wiss DA, Avena N, Rada P. Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:545. Published 2018 Nov 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545
Westwater ML, Fletcher PC, Ziauddeen H. Sugar addiction: the state of the science. Eur J Nutr. 2016;55(Suppl 2):55–69. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6
C. Rob Markus, Peter J. Rogers, Fred Brouns, Robbie Schepers,
Eating dependence and weight gain; no human evidence for a ‘sugar-addiction’ model of overweight,
Appetite, Volume 114, 2017, Pages 64-72, ISSN 0195-6663
If you’re interested in these topics: “I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That”, a brilliant book by Ben Goodacre. And “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky are great places to start.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Why I Refuse To Watch The Game Changers

Why I Refuse To Watch X “Documentary”

The post I didn’t want to write.

I put documentaries in quotation marks, because the term implies a degree of truth.

When these films initially started surfacing and making an impact, I spent a lot of time pondering whether or not I had an Ethical or Moral obligation to watch them, so I could make an educated assessment of the content and prepare counter arguments if needed.

So, here’s why I’m sparing myself the time & energy of grinding through many “documentaries” – nutrition or otherwise:


I posted recently about how Important I believe it is to actively go out of your way to research the alternate or direct critiques against the views you currently hold. Only choosing data and arguments, or in todays age; only following people who support your views is the easiest way to halt personal growth and development.

With that said, does that mean that you should consider EVERY piece of evidence that is available?

Are all counter-arguments equal?


Within the public realm the success of a Journalistic account of “science” is almost entirely underpinned by its ability to create interest, see: controversy.

“Today was a pretty low-key day; just the usual stuff happened”

“Study confirms what you actually already know, I mean, it kinda makes sense”.

Newspaper headlines you won’t ever see.


This inherently makes “The Truth”, an inconsequential and often INCONVIENIENT (see what I did there… anyone) which has more value if it’s alluded to, rather than actually stated outright.


Personal opinion in front of a camera, is still just personal anecdote… in front of a camera.

It happens millions of times every day, and generates millions of dollars every day.

What you’ve watching is long-form (big budget) YouTube content. A video format expression of the “Opinion” section. Why give it more credit than that?

It’s certainly done nothing to merit any more credit.


Personally, I actively dig through the literature on these topics. If an important study (which passes scientific rigour) is published within this area – I would love to study it.

However, that kind of study doesn’t come along very often. Because truly groundbreaking, landmark work usually comes in baby steps. Generations of scientists building on the work of previous researchers.

It’s how science works. Slowly. Often undramatically.


However, if your career involves anything outside of the, often disappointingly, controversial world of Exercise & Nutrition science, I absolutely understand the appeal of being spoon fed “The Truth” from the comfort of your couch in the form of entertainment.

That’s not a criticism. I get it.

It’s worth considering, if you are SO convinced that you should choose to implement practices recommended by an entertainment piece (which make no doubt, these are) then it’s important to understand that you haven’t made a decision – you’ve been sold.


P.S. Anyone who chooses to make the argument that these work, complete with their misuse of information & appeal to the canon of science, are justified because they are attempting to create a positive change in the world should take a second to deeply consider the following;

You’re actively employing the “The Ends Justifies The Means” rational, which has, and will, be used very consistently through history to justify some of the most horrific actions ever committed by humans capable of pre-meditation.