Your ‘Sweet Tooth’ Is Really Your Brain Out To Get You

Having trouble keeping your New Year’s resolution to ditch the sweets? Blame your brain.

A new study from researchers at Duke University finds that a sugar habit leaves a lasting imprint on certain brain circuits, making it incredibly difficult to stop eating sweet food. These marks, in turn, prime us to give into our cravings.

With this new knowledge of how sugar and other vices affect the brain, researchers may one day be able to target these circuits to help people kick bad habits and form healthy ones.

Scientists have known for some time that sugar can be addictive, hijacking the brain’s reward networkings and creating a cycle of vicious cravings. But the new study, which was published in the journal Neuron on Thursday, is helping neuroscientists to better understand why it’s so hard to beat those cravings.

You could imagine a range of possibilities for using this information to help people with bad habits.”

For the study, the researchers trained mice to develop a sugar habit. They taught them to press a lever in order to receive tiny sweets. The mice who became hooked on the sugar couldn’t stop pressing the lever, even after the treats were taken away.

Then the researchers compared the brains of the mice who developed a sugar habit with those who managed to break the habit, focusing specifically on the basal ganglia — a network of brain regions responsible for motor actions and compulsive behaviors, such as drug addiction.

In the basal ganglia, there are two main pathways: One that carries “go” signals, which spur us to action, and one that carries “stop” signals, which prevent us from taking action. In the case of habits and addictions, these “stop” signals are generally seen as the factor that helps prevent the behavior. —> Read More