Society’s Sweet Tooth… the Brain’s Response to Sugar | Amanda Maracle | TEDxQueensU

Society’s Sweet Tooth… the Brain’s Response to Sugar | Amanda Maracle | TEDxQueensU


Translator: Mirjana Čutura
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs I’d like to start off
by telling you a story. It’s about a woman named Barbara. Now, unfortunately for Barbara, when she was young, unhealthy habits were modeled at home. And several of her close relatives struggled with a very specific
type of disorder. As Barbara got older, she realized that exposure
to a certain type of substance was highly rewarding for her, and she began actively seeking it out and consuming it without experiencing,
really, any negative consequences. Over time though, Barbara began to experience
the negative health effects associated with taking this substance
for a long period of time. She had intense cravings. She began to struggle with depression. And even though she had tried
to reduce her intake several times, she had been unsuccessful each time. Now, I’m sure you all have an idea of what
it is that Barbara is struggling with, and if you had guessed addiction,
then you would be correct. Barbara’s not alone in this. One in five Canadians will meet
the criteria for substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime. I want you to think about this. I want you to look to the two people
on your right-hand side and then the two people
on your left-hand side. Statistically speaking, this means that one of you will meet
the criteria for substance use disorder at some point in your lifetime. Four in 10 Canadians will meet the criteria for addiction
to tobacco products. Two in 10 Canadians will meet
the criteria for addiction to alcohol. And six in 100, about six percent
of the population, will meet the criteria for addiction
to cannabis and other illicit substances. The social cost of this,
according to a 2006 study, was approximately
39.8 billion dollars each year. This means that it costs
just over 1,200 dollars to every man, woman, and child in Canada. And this includes both direct costs, like the cost of healthcare
and law enforcement, and indirect costs,
like lost productivity at work. Now, Barbara’s specific addiction will cost Canadians approximately
4.5 billion dollars each year. Now, some of you may have an idea of what
the substance Barbara is addicted to is. Some of you might be guessing “tobacco,” some of you might be thinking “alcohol,” some of you might be thinking something
a little harder, like cocaine or heroin. In actuality, Barbara isn’t addicted
to any of these substances. Barbara is addicted to food. Now, some of you might be surprised
by that statement, and some of you may disagree
with that statement. And in fact, the controversy
surrounding food addiction has been waging for the better part
of the last 10 years on two fronts. The first is what I like to call
the social media war. On one side, you have individuals
that claim to suffer from food addiction and provide anecdotal evidence
of their own experiences and the experiences
of the people that they know. And on the other side is – you have individuals that claim
that the words “food addiction” are simply a cover, an excuse
for developing obesity or for having low self-control. The other front on which this controversy
is waged is in the scientific one. Ten years ago, health scientists started saying,
“Look, we’ve got people coming to us, and they are showing
hallmark features of addiction: They are showing tolerance. They’re showing withdrawal. They’re showing impulse-control issues.” And on the other side, you had individuals that studied
the sort of classic drugs of abuse, like cocaine and like heroin, who said that food could not be classified
in the same way as those drugs and that the neurobiological things
that happen when someone becomes addicted aren’t present in individuals
that claim to suffer from food addiction. Now, this is where I came in. This is when I began
to be interested in research, and I had been exposed
to this controversy in social media, and I’d been exposed to it
in the scientific field, and I was really interested. So when I started my research,
I started with a very simple question. And that question was, “Can the rewarding properties
of food produce addiction?” Now, one of the hallmark features
of addiction is compulsion. And if you look up the definition
of “compulsion” in the dictionary, it is “the irresistible urge to behave in a way that runs contrary
to your express, conscious wishes.” In addiction, we see
this present as individuals that are unable to stop themselves
from consuming a substance even if they no longer wish to and even if they no longer derive
any enjoyment from doing so. So I went back to my original question, “Can the rewarding properties of food
produce addiction?” and I modified it to, “Can the rewarding properties of food
produce compulsion, this hallmark feature of addiction?” Now, to do this, I used
an already-established model, and I exposed animals –
rats, specifically – to a substance that is commonly found in food
and also happens to be highly rewarding. And that substance is refined white sugar. And I exposed these animals
to a concentration that is commonly found
in sweetened beverages. So I used a 10 percent concentration, and for comparison, the average can of pop
has about 11 percent. And I exposed these animals
to this concentration of sugar for 12 hours a day, every day
for about a month. And some very interesting things happened. The first is that they began to binge. They were consuming about five percent
of their body weight in the first hour every time
they had access to the sugar. Now, for comparison, you can think of someone
my size and my body weight drinking about three liters of pop or eating one-third of a kilo
of sugar in one hour. They also heavily escalated
their intake over time. By the end, in a 12-hour period, they were consuming roughly one-fifth
of their body weight, which, again, for comparison, is someone like me
consuming 13 liters of pop or 1.3 kilos of refined white sugar. Imagine … drinking this or eating this every day. So this is really shocking to me. But what I was interested in was whether exposure to this amount
of sugar could produce compulsion. Now, unfortunately,
you can’t ask an animal, “Are you addicted to something?” You can’t ask an animal,
“Are you compulsive?” So I had to put them
in an evolutionarily relevant situation, one that pit their instinctual
mechanism for avoiding danger versus this learned behavior
to seek out and consume sugar. And when I did that, the animals that had been consuming
massive amounts of sugar completely ignored – they completely overrode this instinctual
mechanism in favor of seeking out sugar. And this is something that normal,
healthy animals will not do. But what was happening neurobiologically? What was happening in their brains? Well, there’s some very specific changes
that happen to a brain when it becomes addicted to a substance, and the changes that happen are different depending on the type of the brain area
that you’re looking at. The specific area that I was interested is implicated in survival-based
motivated behaviors. And it happens to sit
between two other brain areas that have already been heavily implicated
in the development of addiction. The first in the amygdala, which processes
emotional and rewarding information, and the other is the striatum, which is responsible
for reinforcement-based learning and motor control. Now, this area had actually already
been looked at by a colleague of mine, and he was looking at it in animals
that self-administered cocaine, classic drug of abuse,
over a long period of time. And he was able to show
that there’s a very unique change that happens to the neurons
in this brain area. They respond very differently to dopamine, which is the brain’s primary
rewarding neurotransmitter, than the neurons do
in the brains of animals that had either had no exposure to cocaine or had been exposed to cocaine but weren’t self-administering it
for a long period of time. Now, when I looked at
this brain area in my animals, to my astonishment, I found
exactly the same change in their brains as what was happening in animals
that were self-administering cocaine. So, what’s happening? What does this mean? Well, our brains are highly
evolved, adapted organs. And our brains have evolved
to seek out rewarding substances and perform rewarding behaviors because in our evolutionary history,
that meant survival: things like having sex,
eating good food, avoiding danger. Unfortunately, this highly adapted system, when it’s exposed to unnaturally
reinforcing substances like drugs – this formerly adaptive process
becomes maladaptive. There’s this war going on
between our evolved biology, that pushes us to consume
rewarding substances and pushes us to perform
rewarding behaviors, versus our modern environment, a society in which unnaturally reinforcing
substances are plentifully available. This is why we are starting to see
addictions to things that are fundamentally new
to our modern society: addictions to things like gambling,
to video games, and to food. Now, there’s still
quite a bit of controversy in the scientific literature about what exactly
the properties of food are that can produce addiction. But I think, in general, as a society, we need to start thinking
about addiction beyond drugs. We need to stop having such a rigid idea of what the substances are
that can produce addiction. We need to stop thinking
about it as drugs versus other. Because, really, any highly rewarding
substance or behavior can produce the same behavioral
and neurological things that we see in addiction. We need to start thinking of addiction as a very-old brain’s way of trying
to deal with a very new problem. So I want you to do something for me
when you leave here today. I want you to just be aware. And when you see hotly-debated
topics like this one in social media and other spheres, I want you to think, and I want you to question, and I want you to investigate because, as I found out, addiction doesn’t necessarily look like
what it used to any more. Thank you. (Applause)

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43 thoughts on “Society’s Sweet Tooth… the Brain’s Response to Sugar | Amanda Maracle | TEDxQueensU”

  • This lecture is the reason you shouldn't give a Ted talk unless you either have or are completing a Phd.

  • she is the type of woman you want as a steady girlfriend because she would always have interesting things to say and probably comes from money.

  • the only thing I don't like about Ted Talks is that you have to sit there and listen to people all day

  • I don't know why people making a big stink about Sugar. Our body uses GLUCOSE as the primary fuel for metabolic ENERGY; ATP, orginially from plant food. so of course we will get the DOPAMINE release when eat a meal for SURVIVAL. The processed food industry, has SCREW up our BRAIN SIGNAL!!!! Our hypothalmus is a CHEMICAL detector not an ANALYTICAL one.. So, it the food companies that highjacked our mental and physiological "survival" facility. JUST EAT FROM NATURE MADE, not MAN MADE .

  • Love this I wish they would teach this in schools, school canteens (I'm in Australia) have so much sugar content its crazy! I have to admit I have had sugar crashes in the past to the point where I fall asleep. I now have stevia, and it takes a lot of getting used to. I now do RTT (hypnotherapy) and have clients with sugar addiction. its real and people are becoming more and more aware of it. But if I have anything with sugar at home my brain think about it continuously so I just throw it out, especially when people bring cakes and sweets over Christmas. I have chickens and they don't eat anything sweet! Just goes to show that even they know better!

  • if barbara started her addiction as a child, why would anybody guess anything but food? alcohol? tobacco? really?

  • So I read the comments on here and all the men have not listened to one word she said and instead commented on what she's wearing or her hair color or how attractive they think she is. Lets do a Ted talk on testosterone poisening.

  • this probably won't be a popular comment, but I really wish we would stop torturing rats and other animals in the name of science. If a creature can feel pain then where is the ethical basis for inflicting pain on them? Before you ask, I'm not a vegetarian and that's probably not consistent but it's just a thought that occurred to me. There's a difference between responsibly and sustainingly eating meat infrequently and maintaining Labs full of animals that are subjected to experiments in the name of science.

  • Corporations are what's killing us, from food ads to processed foods, so we need to force corporations to eliminate bad food ads and bad food, because it's wrong to let them teach us to eat things that kill us. Nothing that kills us or is bad for us or the Earth should be legal! Let's say ITS ILLEGAL and make them stop 100%!

  • Do you think the food manufacturers didn't figure out the addictive properties of sugar a long time ago? Ever wonder why sugar is in almost everything that you find in a grocery store?

  • Mental addiction definition
    In comparison to physical addiction, psychological addiction occurs when a person does not have a physical need for a drug but rather a mental desire for it. Psychological addiction is most common in people who use substances like marijuana.

    Physical addiction definition
    Physical addiction: Physical addiction refers to the compulsive need for a drug or substance in order to prevent the withdrawal symptoms (physical and/or psychological) or due to increased tolerance to the effects of the substance

  • Her talk is about the adverse effects of sugar and that it is bad. And then her whole talk is how she made animals suffer. She is a horrid excuse of living tissue. Amanda Maracle why don't you learn some humanity. Your talk also does not belong on a Ted Talk.

  • This is a great presentation. I think not controlling for the effect of deprivation and past disordered eating in a missing factor, though.

  • Darn….my first name's Barbara and my aunts and uncles would ALWAYS bring candy when they came to visit. And then they wondered why I was gaining weight. I WAS NOT an overeater 🙁 I did not have my own money…and as a kid, was exposed to candy when I moved to the States. Up until then… living overseas…never had candy.

  • When she starts talking about experiments and findings things get a little silly (and cruel).
    What she is talking about is an extreme intake of sugar, which she forced on the lab rats to begin with.
    Animals are habitual eaters and procreators. If you put too much fish in the fish tank, they eat it. It's not always or immediately about sugar.
    The only animals that chill, gold dig and parade their academic credential on stage for money are humans.

  • We use a natural way to decrease our sugar cravings. It's organic vegan wholefood capsules, which floods the body with fruits vegetables and berries which intern makes crave healthy food. There are chewable gummies for kids or adults who can't swallow capsules

  • I want to call on the food manufactures to try to start eliminating the high fructose corn syrup. I think if there is one thing contributing to obese children that has a lot to do with it. We have to help our future control their health and it all comes down to again money…if it tastes good do it?

  • I think the speaker is "Barbara" and rather than be honest about it, she's lying. This means she is ashamed. She sounds phony.

  • I've tried to stop sugar about 30 or so times and was unsuccessful. I go through a literal withdrawal and have legitimate physical and mental symptoms. When I tell people I'm addicted to Sugar they giggle thinking I'm joking or exaggerating it, but I really am an addict. It's humiliating to admit =(

  • I'm addicted to learning and coding.
    Always craving for problems to solve and challenge to complete.
    What should I do baby?

  • Daniel, and perhaps others. My friend has same issue but won't let me help him. Answer: find a good and intuitive EFT practitioner, discuss what big, ongoing problem you had when young that you COULDN'T "figure out" or control and take the charge out of that. And/or what your need to "chew on" mentally is trying to distract you from FEELING emotionally, and address that old issue. I promise you will feel better. My best to you all. Greg Oldenburg

  • Supersize Me – sugar is a white poison and its in everything processed – aspartame is ever worse – it puts lesions in the brain – Dr Blaylock

  • I know some people are not going to agree with my statement, but I will never understand why we test on animals. If you want to know how something affects a person, then test on that person. And I don't mean ridiculous test, but if you have a disease or disorder then why can't the "scientist", take blood samples, cells samples etc and test on actually people if you want accurate results on how things affect people.