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Medical myths: All about sugar

Cardiff University’s School of Psychology
the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs
the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology
Molecular Imaging at Imperial College London
the National Mango Board
Highbush Blueberry Council
the American Cancer Society

Misconception Lane
Dominic M. Dwyer
David Nutt


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the United States

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The New York Times
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David Nutt, Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs and head of the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging at Imperial College London, writes:“There is not currently scientific evidence that sugar is addictive, although we know that sugar has psychological effects, including producing pleasure, and these are almost certainly mediated via brain reward systems.”It is worth noting that even though health experts do not class sugar as an addictive substance, that does not make it healthful.This is perhaps the most common myth associated with sugar: eating candy causes children to run wild. With that said, sweetened beverages, such as soda, have associations with several negative health consequences, including kidney damage, cellular aging, hip fractures, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and more.Cutting soda from our diets would certainly not be a terrible idea.Despite the rumors, most experts do not believe sugar directly causes cancer or fuels its spread.Cancer cells divide rapidly, meaning they require a great deal of energy, which sugar can provide. For instance, the American Cancer Society write:“There is […] evidence that a dietary pattern high in added sugars affects levels of insulin and related hormones in ways that may increase the risk of certain cancers.” One study, which included data from 101,279 participants, concluded that “[t]otal sugar intake was associated with higher overall cancer risk,” even after controlling for multiple factors, including weight.Other researchers have found links between sugar intake and specific cancers, such as endometrial cancer and colon cancer. One review of research into soft drink consumption, nutrition, and health examined the results of 88 relevant studies.They found “clear associations” between soft drink intake, body weight, and medical issues.” Tellingly, they also report that “studies funded by the food industry reported significantly smaller effects than did non-industry-funded studies.”Although there are a number of misunderstandings surrounding sugar, some things are certain: although it might not directly cause diabetes or cancer, eating high levels of sugar is not healthful.

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