Finally, an answer that makes sense! A potential reason you can't stop craving sugar? Because sugar quiets stress. According to Reuters, sugar can put a cap on your stress levels, but that only leads to consuming even more sugar, which is harmful to your health and a hard habit to break.
In a two-week experiment, 19 women drank three beverages a day sweetened either with real sugar or aspartame, a substitute. Researchers did magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to see how the sweets affected the women and found that sugar, but not aspartame, triggered activity in a part of the brain involved in reacting to stress.
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The MRI results suggest that sugar may have interrupted the normal response to stress in the hippocampus region of the brain, limiting production of the stress hormone cortisol, said senior study author Kevin Laugero, a nutrition researcher at the University of California, Davis.
"The findings suggest an explanation of how, mechanistically, sugar may positively reinforce its habitual consumption in people experiencing chronic stress," Laugero said by email.
Without the sugar, the researchers might have expected to see a surge in cortisol during the experiment because they gave the women impossibly difficult math problems to complete in their heads – a challenge designed to trigger a stress response – before the MRIs.
» Read more: Can You Really Be Addicted to Sugar?
But the women who drank beverages sweetened with sugar had MRIs showing significantly higher activity in the hippocampus and lower levels of stress-induced cortisol than the MRIs of women who had aspartame. Normally, acute stress blocks activity in the hippocampus, the researchers write in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
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