The Science Underneath Sugar Sensitivity

Let's take a look at the science behind the theory.

Sugar sensitivity is a term I coined to describe those persons who appear to have a dysfunction in three separate but connected biological systems which affect emotions and behavior. These dysfunctions include a disturbance in carbohydrate metabolism, lowered serotonin functioning and a lowered beta-endorphin level which results in an exaggerated response to beta-endorphin producing exogenous substances. The consequences of these separate disturbances are both physiological and psychological.

Sugar Sensitivity

While the hypothesis of sugar-sensitivity is inferential at this point, it offers an intriguing possibility of a physiological syndrome which may be identified and examined more fully. The scientific literature has clearly established the existence of the three problems I have linked together into the syndrome of sugar sensitivity. Disturbed carbohydrate metabolism, lowered serotonin functioning and lowered beta-endorphin functioning have been discussed extensively.

Carbohydrate Sensitivity

Discussion of the responsiveness to dietary interventions aiming at normalizing these disturbances are prevalent in varying degrees. Data on the resolution of carbohydrate malfunction have been developed extensively and are widely known. Discussion on the role of diet in raising serotonin levels were initiated in the research of Fernstrom at the University of Pittsburgh and Wurtman and Wurtman at MIT. While these data have not been widely replicated, they have been carefully produced and are well-considered within nutritional science. This information has been widely promulgated in the public domain through the population literature referencing "food and mood."

Beta Endorphin

The relevant discussion of beta-endorphin functioning has been found within the alcoholism and addiction literature which has looked at the role of beta-endorphin in the reinforcing properties of alcohol and other drugs. Originally designed as an effective control substance in the beta-endorphin research, sucrose has emerged as an intriguing substance which is consumed for many of the properties it shares with alcohol (i.e., the production of beta-endorphin). The role of sugars consumption as a predictor of human alcohol intake was recently presented by Kampov-Polevoy in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Role of Diet

Discussions of the role of diet in the treatment of alcoholism have primarily focused on the development of general restorative diets to enhance nutrient intake and balance blood sugar levels by minimizing the intake of refined carbohydrate products. Other data have suggested the value of increasing sugars intake as a way of maintaining sobriety. The concept of modulating diet as a way of controlling the beta-endorphin priming effects of sugars was first presented in 1996 in my own doctoral dissertation.

More Information

If you are interested in learning more about the science, go to the complete bibliography in Potatoes Not Prozac. Pick any of the citations and then go either to your library or your computer to read the original abstracts. You may want to go directly to PubMed, the online service of the National Library of Medicine and explore each of these subjects more in depth. PubMed will allow you to search for things like "sucrose and beta endorphin" or "carbohydrate sensitivity." Let me know if you find exciting ideas or have questions about what you have found. Send e-mail to

Here are some citations to start with:

Go to PubMed and type in the authors last name and initials to get abstracts.

Bachmanov, A.A., Tordoff, M. G., Beauchamp, G. K., Ethanol consumption and taste preferences in C57BL/6ByJ and 129/J mice. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 1996. 20(2): p. 201-206.

Bartoshuk, L.M., Sweetness: History, Preference, and Genetic Variability. Food Technology, 1991. November: p. 108-113.

Blass, E., E. Fitzgerald, and P. Kehoe, Interactions Between Sucrose, Pain and Isolation Distress. Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior, 1986. 26: p. 483-489.

Brown, G.L., M.D., CSF serotonin metabolite (5-HIAA) studies in depression, impulsivity, and violence. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1990. 51(4 (suppl.)): p. 31-41.

Cadoret, R.J., M.D., C.A. Cain, and W.M. Grove, M.S., Development of Alcoholism in Adoptees Raised Apart From Alcoholic Biologic Relatives. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1980. 37(May): p. 561-563.

Cleary, J., et al., Naloxone effects on sucrose-motivated behavior. Psychopharmacology, 1996. 176: p. 110-114.

Czirr, S.A. and L.D. Reid, Demonstrating Morphine's Potentiating Effects on Sucrose-Intake. Brain Research Bulletin, 1986. 17: p. 639-642.

DesMaisons, K., Biochemical restoration as an intervention for multiple offense drunk driving, . 1996, The Union Institute.

de Waele, J.P., K. Kiianmaa, and C. Gianoulakis, Distribution of the mu and delta opioid binding sites in the brain of the alcohol-preferring AA and alcohol-avoiding ANA lines of rats. J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 1995. 275(1): p. 518-527.

Fernstrom, J.D. and R.J. Wurtman, Brain serotonin: Increase following ingestion of carbohydrate diet. Science, 1971. 174(Dec. 3): p. 1023-1025.

Fernstrom, M.H. and J.D. Fernstrom, Brain tryptophan concentrations and serotonin synthesis remain responsive to food consumption after the ingestion of sequential meals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995. 61: p. 312-319.

Forsander, O.A.a.A.R.P., Is carbohydrate metabolism genetically related to alcohol drinking? Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1987. 1: p. 357-59.

Gearl, R., et al., Kappa-opioids produce significantly greater analgesia in women than men. Division of Rheumatology, UCSF, 1996.

Geiselman, P. and D. Novin, The Role of Carbohydrates in Appetite, Hunger and Obesity. Journal for Intake Research, 1982. 3: p. 203-223.

Gianoulakis, C., et al., Different pituitary beta-endorphin and adrenal cortisol response to ethanol in individuals with high and low risk for future development of alcoholism. Life Sci (England), 1989. 45(12): p. 1097-1109.

Gianoulakis, C., B. Krishnan, and J. Thavundayil, Enhanced sensitivity of pituitary beta-endorphin to ethanol in subjects at high risk of alcoholism. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1996. 52(3): p. 250-257.

Gill, K., Filion, Y., et al., A Further Examination of the Effects of Sertraline on Voluntary Ethanol Consumption. Alcohol, 1988. 5: p. 355-358.

Goas, J.A. Endocrine factors underlying the ethanol preference of C57B1/6j Mice. in Alcohol III. 1978.

Guenther, R., Ph.D., The Role of Nutritional Therapy in Alcoholism Treatment. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 1983. 4(1): p. 5-18.

Hrdina, P., et al., Serotonergic markers in platelets of patients with major depression: upregulation of 5-HT2 receptors. J Psychiatry Neuroscience, 1995. 20(1)(Jan): p. 11-9.

Kampov-Polevoy, A., J.C. Garbutt, and D. Janowsky, Evidence of Preference for a High-Concentration Sucrose Solution in Alcoholic Men. Am J Psychiatry, 1997. 154(2): p. 269-270.

Kanarek, R.B. and N. Orthen-Gambill, Differential effects of sucrose, fructose and glucose on carbohydrate-induced obesity in rats. Journal of Nutrition, 1982. 112: p. 1546-1554.

Ipp, E., R. Dobbs, and R.H. Unger, Morphine and beta-Endorphin influence the secretion of the endocrine pancreas. Nature, 1978. 276: p. 190-191.

Israel, K.D., Otho E. Michaelis IV, Sheldon Reiser, Mark Keeney, Serum uric acid, inorganic phosphorus, and glutamic-oxalacetic transaminase and blood pressure in carbohydrate-sensitive adults consuming three different levels of sucrose. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 1983. 27: p. 425-435.

Laeng, B., K. Berridge, and C. Butter, Pleasantness of sweet taste during hunger and satiety: effects of gender and "sweet tooth". Appetite, 1993. 21(Dec): p. 247-254.

Leibach, I., et al., Morphine Tolerance in Genetically Selected Rats Induced by Chronically Elevated Saccharine Intake. Science, 1983. 221(26 August): p. 871-873.

Looy, H., S. Callaghan, and H. Weingarten, Hedonic response of sucrose likers and dislikers to other gustatory stimuli. Physiol Behav, 1992. 52(Aug): p. 219-225.

Mathews-Larson, J., Parker, R. A., Alcoholism Treatment with Biochemical Restoration as a Major Component. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 1987. 9(1): p. 92-106.

Moles, A. and S. Cooper, Opioid modulation of sucrose intake in CD-1 mice: effects of gender and housing conditions. Physiol Behav, 1995. 58(Oct): p. 791-796.

Morley, J.E., M.B., B.Ch. and A.S. Levine, Ph.D., The Role of the Endogenous Opiates as Regulators of Appetite. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1982. 35: p. 757-761.

Rozin, P., E. Levine, and C. Stoess, Chocolate craving and liking. Appetite, 1991. 17(3): p. 199-212.

Stewart, R.B., et al., Consumption of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter solutions by selectively bred alcohol-preferring and alcohol-nonpeferring lines of rats. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 1994. 18(2): p. 375-381.

Van der Kolk, B.A., Greenberg, Mark S., Orr, Scott P., Pitman, Roger K., Endogenous Opioids, Stress Induced Analgesia, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 1989. 25(3): p. 417-421.

Van der Kolk, B.A., The Body Keeps Score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress, . 1993, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Van Ree, J., Endorphins and Experimental Addiction. Alcohol, 1996. 13(1): p. 25-.

Virkkunen, M., M.D., Brain seratonin, type II alcohoism and impulsive violence. Journal of the Study of Alcoholism, 1993. 11(suppl.): p. 163-169.

Volpicelli, J.R., M.D., Ph.D., et al., Naltrexone in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1992. 49: p. 876-880.

Wurtman, J.J., Lieberman, H. R., Chew, B., Changes in mood after carbohydrate consumption among obese individuals. Am J Clin Nutr, 1986. 44: p. 772-778.

Wurtman, J.J. and R.J. Wurtman, Fenfluramine and Fluoxetine Spare Protein Consumption While Suppressing Caloric Intake by Rats. Science, 1977. 194(December): p. 1178-1180.

Wurtman, R.J. and J.J. Wurtman, Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity, and depression. Obes Res, 1995. 3 Suppl 4: p. 477S-480S.

Yung, L., E. Gordis, and J. Holt, Dietary Choices and Likelihood of Abstinence Among Alcoholic Patients in an Outpatient Clinic. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 1983. 12: p. 355-362.

Zorrilla, E., D. RJ, and R. E, High self-esteem, hardiness and affective stability are associated with higher basal pituitary-adrenal hormone levels. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 1995. 20(6): p. 591-601.

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