Is sugar withdrawal a thing?

If you’ve ever tried to cut down the sweet stuff, you might have found it a little harder than you thought. 

You might have even got some pretty fun symptoms in those first few days or weeks – hello headaches, cravings and general don’t-come-near-me vibes!

Which got us thinking… is sugar withdrawal a thing? Let’s see what the science says.

The link between sugar and dopamine 

It’s long been understood that eating sugar leads to the release of one of our favourite brain messengers, dopamine. Dopamine is also known as the ‘feel good’ messenger, because, well, it makes us feel good. It’s basically there to re-enforce behaviours that will help us survive, making us want to do them again. 

But why would our brains want to reenforce something we know isn’t great for us, I hear you ask? Thing is, our brains haven’t caught up with our environments. 

Back in cave man days, we only rarely came upon a beehive or a bramble of berries – so sugar was a scarce commodity. As sugar is also such a great source of energy, it made sense for our brain to tell us to eat the whole damn thing. 

Problem is, sugar is EVERYWHERE today. Which means many of us are prone to almost constant overindulgence. 

This goes some way to explaining why can be difficult not go gung-ho on an entire block of Cadbury. But it can also help explain why cutting out the sweet stuff may cause our bodies to go a little haywire. Brain chemistry is serious stuff to be messing with.

Sugar and addiction 

Caveat: this is a relatively new field, and addiction is an incredibly complex area. But some recent studies have seen sugar produce similar behavioural and physiological effects to those we see caused by addictive drugs.   

One study saw similar neural changes from high sugar intake as from nicotine addiction. Another found intense sweetness even trumps cocaine in triggering our reward pathways. 

In any case sugar withdrawal symptoms are real!

Studies on rats have found those given then deprived of sugar will show opiate-like withdrawal symptoms like decreased dopamine levels, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety. 

And when us humans drastically reduce our sugar intake, we may well experience withdrawal symptoms, too. Lucky for us, they usually go away in a few days or weeks.

Watch this space in the coming weeks as we take you through some of the most common sugar withdrawal symptoms, and how to combat them.