Recently proven to be more addictive than cocaine, a closer look at High Fructose Corn Syrup may help to explain America’s rise in obesity and the new focus on food addiction.

Ironically, when the government ordered cocaine removed from all Coca-Cola beverages no one would have guessed that an even more consequential substance would take its place, or that the government was to blame for this substitution. High Fructose Corn Syrup hit the markets in the 1950s as a wonder product. Cheaper than sugar cane while still packing all the intense sweetness we associate with confectionery delights, High Fructose Corn Syrup is now used to sweeten up tons of candies, juices, colas, cookies, cakes, and creams and has even found its way into less palatable tempting items including bread, soups, and other pre-packaged foods. However, once this seemingly sweet deal has been licked away, only the bitterness of addiction remains at the core.

Shadowing the same receptor pathways of other ingested addictive chemicals, including cocaine and opiates, High Fructose Corn Syrup alters the transmission of certain brain chemicals including endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which, in turn, trigger the pleasure center of our brains, leaving us wanting more. It is important to note that with the incorporation of HFCS into food products have raised more than 1000% since 1970.

A 2007 study (Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH ), found that intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward even in addicted and drug-sensitized individuals leading to increased aggression upon withdrawal and a disruption of the dopamine/acetylcholine reward balance in the brain. As the alterations on brain function brought on by HFCS produce many of these hallmarks of addiction - including intense craving, the inability to control or stop use, a pre-occupation with the substance, and withdrawal symptoms - the idea of dessert becomes elevated to a whole new level.

It’s so hard today to promote the fact that sugar - and particularly high fructose corn syrup so overused in foods today - is an addictive substance, leaving one wanting more and more. Unfortunately, there are still many nutritionists, dietitians, and professionals who don’t believe sugar can be addictive to some people. In all my years of work with eating disorder sufferers and emotional overeaters - as well as the new scientific studies - prove otherwise. It is just like alcohol. Some people have no problem having a few drinks, but others cannot stop after that first drink.

In my new book, Diets Don’t Work! Understanding the Cycles of Emotional Overeating and Yo-Yo Dieting [ReBu Publishing, 2009], I have help for those going around and around the addiction cycle with HFCS and other sugar products to permanently break free through a process of learning how to re-connect to silenced hunger cues while learning to understand the underlying feelings beneath the cravings.
We are in the midst of an obesity crisis in this country and I’m convinced high fructose corn syrup is a major culprit. I’ve known this from working with disordered eating victims for decades and now with this new scientific back-up maybe we can get food and eating professionals to agree. Nothing less than the health of our nation is at stake.

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Author's Bio: 

Rebecca Cooper, MFT, CCH, CEDS
Founder, Rebecca's House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs™
Author, Diets Don't Work®

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