Sugars: hedonic aspects, neuroregulation, and energy balance.

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The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically in recent years in the United States, with similar patterns seen in several other countries. Although there are several potential explanations for this dramatic increase in obesity, dietary influences are a contributing factor. An inverse correlation between dietary sugar intake and body mass index has been reported, suggesting beneficial effects of carbohydrate intake on body mass index. In this review we discuss how sugars interact with regulatory neurochemicals in the brain to affect both energy intake and energy expenditure. These neurochemicals appear to be involved in dietary selection, and sugars and palatable substances affect neurochemical changes in the brain. For example, rats that drink sucrose solutions for 3 wk have major changes in neuronal activity in the limbic area of the brain, a region involved in pleasure and other emotions. We also investigate the relations between sucrose (and other sweet substances), drugs of abuse, and the mesolimbic dopaminergic system. The presence of sucrose in an animal's cage can affect the animals desire to self-administer drugs of abuse. Also, an animal's level of sucrose preference can predict its desire to self-administer cocaine. Such data suggest a relation between sweet taste and drug reward, although the relevance to humans is unclear. Finally, we address the influence of sugar on body weight control. For example, sucrose feeding for 2 wk decreases the efficiency of energy utilization and increases gene expression of uncoupling protein 3 in muscle, suggesting that sucrose may influence uncoupling protein 3 activity and contribute to changes in metabolic efficiency and thus regulation of body weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)834S-842S
JournalThe American journal of clinical nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2003


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