Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

Choline - A Neglected Nutrient Vital for Healthy Brains - BOOK HERE

The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors

Jacques A, Chaaya N, Beecher K, Ali SA, Belmer A, Bartlett S (2019) Neurosci Biobehav Rev.  2019 Aug;103: 178-199. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.021. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here


In 2016 the World Health Organization reported 39% of the world's adult population (over 18 y) was overweight, with western countries such as Australia and the United States of America at 64.5% and 67.9% respectively. Overconsumption of high fat/sugar containing food and beverages contribute to the development of obesity.

Neural plasticity that occurs as a result of long term sugar 
consumption has been shown to reduce impulse control and therefore lower the ability to resist the high fat/sugar foods contributing to the obesity epidemic.

There is significant overlap between the neural pathways involved in emotions that guide behavioural responses to survival situations with those regulating overconsumption of highly palatable food. This suggests that having a clearer understanding of the role of stress and emotions in the development of obesity will lead to the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

consumption activates the mesocorticolimbic system in a manner synonymous with substances of abuse. There is overwhelming evidence to support the hypothesis that sucrose consumption results in pathophysiological consequences such as morphological neuronal changes, altered emotional processing and modified behaviour in rodent and human models.

In this comprehensive review, we examined >300 studies investigating the interaction between sugar 
consumption, stress and emotions. Preclinical and clinical trials investigating highly palatable foods and stress, anxiety, depression and fear are reviewed. Importantly, the synergy between sugar consumption and neurobiology is addressed.

This review summarizes the neurochemical 
changes and neural adaptations - including changes in the dopaminergic system - that influence emotion and behaviour following sugar consumption.


  • A diet high in sugars has been linked to cognitive impairments, negative neuroplasticity and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Sugar consumption increases the impulsivity to feed.
  • Sugar overconsumption leads to changes in neurobiological brain function which alter emotional states and subsequent behaviours.
  • Addiction, stress, fear, anxiety and depression involve overlapping neural mechanisms.




This comprehensive review provides an up-to-date summary and evaluation of research investigating how high sugar consumption - a standard feature of typical modern, western-type diets - affects brain function and mental health.

The findings confirm that excessive sugar intakes have damaging effects on brain development and function, and increase risks for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.

In addition, high sugar intakes increase impulsivity and sugar cravings, while also impairing attention and cognition - leading to further over-consumption of sugary foods and drinks. 

There is now compelling evidence that sugar is addictive (in any meaningful sense of that word), and as the authors explicitly state in their highlights:  "Addiction, stress, fear, anxiety and depression involve overlapping neural mechanisms".

For more research on links between sugar and mood disorders, see:

See also: