Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Tasteless Calories Tempt the Brain

Brain May Like Sugar's Calories, Not Just Its Taste, Lab Tests in Mice Show
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 26, 2008 -- The sweet taste of sugar may be hard to resist, but sugar's calories may have their own allure.

That news comes from lab tests on mice, including "sweet-blind" mice that can't sense sweetness.

The researchers studied sweet-blind mice and normal mice that didn't eat or drank anything for 20-22 hours.

The mice had access to two bottles of water. One bottle contained plain, unsweetened water. The other bottle contained water sweetened with sugar.

All of the mice preferred the sugary water. And after drinking the sugary water, brain levels of the pleasure chemical dopamine rose in the mice.

Next, the mice got a choice between plain water and water sweetened with sucralose, a no-calorie sweetener. The normal mice preferred the sweet water, but the sweet-blind mice had no preference.

And although dopamine levels rose when the sweet-blind mice drank water spiked with sugar, that didn't happen when they drank sucralose-sweetened water or unsweetened water.

Sugar's appeal may lie in its calories, as well as its taste, conclude Ivan de Araujo, PhD and colleagues; de Araujo, who worked on the study at Duke University, now works at Yale University's John B. Pierce Laboratory.

The study is "important and interesting," write Yale University's Zane Andrews, PhD, and Tamas Horvath, DVM, PhD, in an editorial published with the study in tomorrow's edition of Neuron.

Andrews and Horvath point out that since the mice were hungry and thirsty, they may have responded differently than under normal conditions.

The editorialists call for more research on the topic, since other studies have shown "cross talk" in the brain about food's pleasurable (taste) and practical (calories) aspects.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
 
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
 
senior man
Article
boy hits soccer ball with head
Slideshow
 
Graphic of active brain
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
human brain
Article
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
Quiz