Catching Up on Sugar


The World Health Organization recommends that a person eat no more than 13 teaspoons of sugar per day, max. That’s just what are called “free” sugars — in other words, extra sugar that is added to food or consumed separately in the form of fizzy drinks. That’s over and above whatever sugar is naturally found in milk and fruit. The 13 teaspoons per day means “at most,” but you wouldn’t know it from the behavior of people — especially Australians. Their average is 14 teaspoons per day.

But the meaning of average is that some people do more and some do less. Australian teenage boys do far, far more than their share. They consume as much as 38 teaspoons per day. This is part of the reason why diet-related disease is the biggest killer of Australians. Very appropriately, a research team from an Australian institution, Queensland University of Technology, just published a couple of groundbreaking items.

A paper published by Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience shows that “long chronic sugar intake can cause eating disorders and impact on behavior” in lab animals, and presumably also in humans. Many medical professionals already suspected as much, so to have this kind of confirmation is just icing on the cake. The study that excites the imagination was published in PLOS ONE and explained by Professor Selena Bartlett:

Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine.

After long-term consumption, this leads to the opposite, a reduction in dopamine levels. This leads to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward.

Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going “cold turkey” from them.

It may seem a bit strange to reference “neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation” when speaking of lab animals, but tests have been developed to demonstrate both mood and motivation in them, and after all, dopamine is dopamine.

The setup for the big news is a refresher course, or rather a refresher sentence, on pharmaceutical drugs that act “as a neuronal nicotinic receptor modulator” and help humans stop smoking cigarettes. Some of their generic names are mecamylamine, cytisine, and varenicline (marketed as Champix).

And the big news is… Going by the animal trials, this type of drug seems able to unhook them from sugar as successfully as it unhooks them from nicotine. Dr. Pretlow’s reaction is, “Champix appears to be treating the sensory addiction component of eating addiction.” But is it enough?

Eating addiction is the more accurate term for what is widely known as “food addiction.” Dr. Pretlow teaches that eating addiction is a combination of two different things, a component of sensory addiction and a behavioral addiction component. The proportions of those two components vary from one individual to the next. He says:

Simple abstinence/withdrawal for 10 days treats the sensory component very readily, as in the W8Loss2Go app with problem foods like sweets/sugar. The behavioral addiction component of eating addiction (chewing, swallowing large amounts) is more difficult to treat and must be treated with behavioral addiction methods like urge surfing, deep breaths, squeezing hands, and viewing white noise.

For a more complete description, please visit the W8Loss2Go page.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Australian teenage boys are consuming up to 38 teaspoons of sugar in a single day,”, 04/27/16
Source: “Treating sugar addiction like drug abuse,”, 04/17/16
Image by: Mendhak

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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