Would it surprise you to find out that drinks with processed sugar are not only responsible for more deaths each year than cocaine and heroin combined, but are also potentially more addictive than two of the most illegal drugs in the world?

It’s true, according to researchers at Tufts University in Boston, who found that an estimated 184,000 adults die each year as a result of consuming excess sugary drinks, with about 25,000 of those deaths occurring in the U.S. It’s important to note that the study doesn’t even account for deaths related to sugar found in food, so in all, it can be assumed that over 300,000 people worldwide likely die from sugar-induced heart disease, diabetes, or another obesity-related disease.

As for deaths attributed to cocaine and heroin use: Cocaine overdoses killed about 7,000 people in the U.S. in 2015 and heroin overdoses killed around 14,000, which totals an estimated 20,000, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The number of deaths resulting from cocaine and heroin use are undoubtedly higher than that though, as the statistics only account for overdoses, and not deaths from other diseases brought on by long-term use of cocaine and heroin.

So here are the cold, hard numbers: An estimated 25,000 adults die each year in the U.S. as a direct result of consuming sugary drinks, while an estimated 20,000 people die each year from cocaine or heroin overdoses. 

To drive the point home even harder, let’s include a recent study published in the Public Library of Science, which found that when rats were given a choice between cocaine and sugar, they chose sugar 94 percent of the time, indicating that sugar is indeed more addictive than cocaine. One study concluded that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine.

“Here we report that when rats were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between water sweetened with saccharin–an intense calorie-free sweetener–and intravenous cocaine–a highly addictive and harmful substance–the large majority of animals (94%) preferred the sweet taste of saccharin. The preference for saccharin was not attributable to its unnatural ability to induce sweetness without calories because the same preference was also observed with sucrose, a natural sugar. Finally, the preference for saccharin was not surmountable by increasing doses of cocaine and was observed despite either cocaine intoxication, sensitization or intake escalation–the latter being a hallmark of drug addiction,” the report states.

The researchers concluded: “Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.”

Such findings led some Australian scientists from Queensland University of Technology to recently proclaim that people who are addicted to and abuse sugary foods should be treated similarly as people who are addicted to drugs, with the scientists going so far as to claim that withdrawal from chronic sugar consumption may be similar to quitting illicit drugs “cold turkey,” reported the Independent.

 

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