A new analysis finds that addiction to sugar is widespread in the United States, even among people who are not addicted to it.
The study by the University of California, Davis and Northwestern University, also found that people who regularly consumed a high sugar diet had a fourfold increase in the odds of developing addiction to that food.
In contrast, people who ate a high-sugar diet but ate less frequently had a threefold increase, and those who ate more frequently ate a four-fold increase.
The finding suggests that people should limit the amount of sugar they consume, the researchers say, and that people may be more likely to become addicted to certain foods if they are deprived of those foods.
The researchers note that these findings should not be interpreted as implying that sugar is a harmless or safe drug.
“Sugar is a complex chemical, and it is important to recognize that many substances, including caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, are addictive, which can lead to the development of a tolerance to these substances,” the researchers write.
“It is also important to note that sugar intake is associated with other addictive substances such as cocaine, nicotine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, heroin and amphetamine-like drugs, which are also addictive.”
Researchers used data from a nationwide survey of adults and adolescents to compile their findings.
The study also looked at the risk factors for the development and severity of alcohol and drug addiction, as well as the likelihood of addiction to other drugs.
The researchers found that while people who frequently consumed sugar tended to be older and white, they also tended to have higher rates of other addiction-related health problems, including hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“People who regularly consume sugar, whether as part of a diet or as a side effect, have the highest odds of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases,” the study authors write.
The risk of developing other health conditions also rose significantly when people regularly consumed more sugar.
For example, a person who regularly drank five to six cans of soda a day had a 10 percent greater risk of diabetes and a 15 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease than a person with no sugar intake.
A person who often ate sugar-sweetened beverages had a 14 percent higher chance of hypertension, a 33 percent higher probability of obesity and a 46 percent higher likelihood of cancer than someone who drank no sugar.
People who routinely ate sugar also had a seven percent greater chance of developing diabetes, a 36 percent higher prevalence of obesity in the group and a 25 percent higher rate of cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Jennifer M. Gerson, a clinical psychologist at the University at Buffalo and one of the study’s authors, says people who consistently consume sugar also have a higher likelihood for a lifetime of depression, anxiety and other health problems.
“This study shows that sugar consumption can have a harmful impact on your health, and not just when it comes to addiction,” she said in a statement.
“People who are already stressed from their own struggles and relationships are at increased risk for developing chronic diseases.
We need to be much more mindful of sugar and its addictive properties in our daily lives.”
The study also found there is a link between people who eat sugar more often and other addictive substance use.
The participants who were more often regularly ingesting sugar had an increased likelihood of using cocaine, heroin, amphetamine and amphetamine, among other addictive drugs.
In addition, those who regularly ate sugar had a greater risk for diabetes and higher levels of obesity than people who rarely or never consumed sugar.
Dr M.J. Dixson, director of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University and one the study lead authors, said people who were regularly consuming sugar were also more likely than those who did not consume it to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Dr Gerson said the findings also suggest that a person’s weight and BMI might affect their chances of developing an addiction to any substance.
“We know that obesity can cause certain diseases, and if you are overweight, your body will use sugar as a fuel,” she added.
“For example if you consume too much sugar, your blood sugar will go up, and the blood sugar can spike into the dangerous range that’s been associated with addiction.
The fact that your BMI is also correlated with how likely you are to develop an addiction is really interesting.”
The researchers also say that people might be less likely to develop addiction if they regularly consume low amounts of salt.
The findings are published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases.
Follow AP Health Writer Stephanie M. Kim on Twitter: @sarahkimjim