Sugar is just as addictive as cocaine according to new research, and a local expert backs the big claim.
The study found sugar cravings are similar to those for cigarettes, sex and cocaine.
Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, authors James DiNicolantonio, James O'Keefe and William Wilson wrote sugar could act as a "gateway" to other addictive substances, such as drugs. Its addictive qualities were similar to cocaine too.
"Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar," the article stated.
Auckland University senior lecturer and food addiction expert Dr Simon Thornley said it was possible sugar could act as a 'gateway'.
The authors sited rodent studies that found sweetness, in the form of condensed milk, was often preferred over cocaine by mice. It was said they could experience withdrawal symptoms as well.
"Users of substances who are trying to get off their substances often use sugary treats to quench the withdrawal symptoms they feel. There's certainly a cross-over in terms of that reward pathway in the brain," Thornley said.
It was also not over the top to say it was addictive, considering people with high sugar intakes found it hard to curtail.
"They get sugar cravings, they get irritable, they get urges, sometimes they get physical symptoms like head aches and stomach pains," he said. That reflected behaviours and symptoms of people giving up drugs.
Thornley was working in quitting smoking when he became interested in sugar, as he felt himself suffering similar withdrawal symptoms
"I diagnosed myself with the same syndrome, when I didn't have sugar.
"A lot of people don't realise until they go without. I never realised I was addicted to sugar, but when I did stop I found it tough."
However, not all experts agree. UK academics have slammed the report, published this week, saying it was "absurd to suggest" sugar was addictive like hard drugs.
King's College London emeritus professor Tom Sanders told The Guardian "Individuals do not get withdrawal symptoms when they cut sugar intake".
"While it is true that a liking for sweet things can be habit-forming it is not addictive like opiates or cocaine," Sanders said.
University of Cambridge psychiatrist Hisham Ziauddeen said the authors misunderstood the rodent studies, saying a review of the matter he co-authored last year did not support the idea that sugar was addictive to humans.
He said it was the sweetness that attracted rodents, because they had a similar response to artificial sweetener saccharin as they did sugar, in his study.
"The rodent studies show that you only get addiction-like behaviours if you restrict the animals to having [sugar] for two hours every day. If you allow them to have it whenever they want it – which is really how we consume it – they don't show these addiction-like behaviours," he said.