New study finds link between a sugar cravings and alcoholism
Everyone loves a sweet treat every now and then, but new research shows that an abnormally strong sweet tooth in children may be a precursor to alcoholism.
Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 02:59 PM
It's natural for parents to be health-conscious about their kids' eating habits, but it would be difficult to find a child who would turn down an ice cream cone or a cookie. Regardless of parenting values, many children seem to have an insatiable sweet tooth. A new study suggests that kids who are drawn to sweeter-than-cola drinks are also more likely to have alcoholism and symptoms of depression in their family tree, according to Yahoo! News.
"We know that sweet taste is rewarding to all kids and makes them feel good," said lead researcher Julie Mennella, a developmental psychobiologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "In addition, certain groups of children may be especially attracted to intense sweetness due to their underlying biology."
Mennella said, “At this point, we don’t know whether this higher ‘bliss point’ for sweets is a marker for later alcohol use.” That means that children who are “sugar-holics” won’t necessarily become alcoholics.
Sweets and alcohol cause many of the same neurological effects, so it's not a big leap to make a connection between the two behaviors.
Mennella and her colleagues asked 300 children ages 5 to 12 to taste five levels of table sugar in water and choose which they most preferred. The participating children then answered questions about depression, and their mothers disclosed information about family alcohol use.
Almost half of the children had alcoholism in their family history and 25 percent reported symptoms of depression.
Only 37 children had both a family history of alcohol abuse and had depressive symptoms. Those children preferred intense sweetness, on average choosing water with 24 percent sugar (or about 14 teaspoons in a cup of water). According to the researchers, that concentration of sugar is more than twice what is found in a typical soda.
Mennella and her team also tested sugar’s pain-reducing effects as part of their study. In this phase children held either water or sugar in their mouths while keeping their hands submerged in cold water. Those children who did not show depressive symptoms and had sugar in their mouths were able to keep their hands submerged 36 percent longer than those with just water in their mouths.
The same effect was not found for the group of children showing symptoms of depression. "It may be that even higher levels of sweetness are needed to make depressed children feel better," Mennella said.
The study done by Mennella and her team was published in the journal Addiction and may help scientists design strategies for getting children to reduce their intake of refined sugar.