The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Aug;103:178-199. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.021. Epub 2019 May 21.

Abstract

In 2016 the World Health Organization reported 39% of the world's adult population (over 18 y) was overweight, with western countries such as Australia and the United States of America at 64.5% and 67.9% respectively. Overconsumption of high fat/sugar containing food and beverages contribute to the development of obesity. Neural plasticity that occurs as a result of long term sugar consumption has been shown to reduce impulse control and therefore lower the ability to resist the high fat/sugar foods contributing to the obesity epidemic. There is significant overlap between the neural pathways involved in emotions that guide behavioural responses to survival situations with those regulating overconsumption of highly palatable food. This suggests that having a clearer understanding of the role of stress and emotions in the development of obesity will lead to the development of novel therapeutic strategies. Sucrose consumption activates the mesocorticolimbic system in a manner synonymous with substances of abuse. There is overwhelming evidence to support the hypothesis that sucrose consumption results in pathophysiological consequences such as morphological neuronal changes, altered emotional processing and modified behaviour in rodent and human models. In this comprehensive review, we examined >300 studies investigating the interaction between sugar consumption, stress and emotions. Preclinical and clinical trials investigating highly palatable foods and stress, anxiety, depression and fear are reviewed. Importantly, the synergy between sugar consumption and neurobiology is addressed. This review summarizes the neurochemical changes and neural adaptations ö including changes in the dopaminergic system ö that influence emotion and behaviour following sugar consumption.

Keywords: Addiction; Anxiety; Behaviour; Depression; Emotion; Fear; Obesity; Stress; Sucrose consumption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / chemically induced*
  • Brain* / drug effects
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / chemically induced
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / metabolism
  • Diet, Carbohydrate Loading / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Sugars / adverse effects*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug effects*
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Obesity* / chemically induced
  • Obesity* / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological* / metabolism

Substances

  • Dietary Sugars