As humans, and Americans in particular, we have come a long way in protecting ourselves from self-inflicted harm. The process of human development has been characterized by trial (no pun intended) and error means by which to achieve a goal. We’ve engaged in all sorts of risky behavior until it came to light that what we were doing wasn’t really good for us. Then, slowly but surely, we eliminated the sanction of such behavior, thereby either eradicating it or demonizing it, either way preventing it from unleashing its maximum potential for damage on society.
For a long time, people didn’t think to purify the water we drink or regulate the livestock we consume. Then, after a while, people caught on to the fact that contaminated drinking water and diseased meats were causing illnesses. Now, there are agencies put in place to ensure that the water and beef we consume (among much else) is regulated to ensure safe consumption.
Tobacco was smoked, sniffed and chewed for centuries before its detrimental health effects became apparent. Once a link was drawn between its ingestion and the development of all types of deadly diseases, it became (somewhat) regulated. It’s still a mass-consumed product, but it has been reigned in significantly. Because of the health concerns associated with it, tobacco litigation has characterized much of recent legal history both in terms of volume and importance.
Dirt in the water and disease in cows can’t really be blamed on anyone in particular – it falls under the umbrella of an “Act of God,” along with hurricanes, floods, etc. – things that humans can’t create and therefore can’t be held responsible for. The tobacco plant alone is not created by humans, but the nicotine compounded into cigarettes is what makes the tobacco companies partly liable for the deaths their products cause.
So, naturally occurring diseases in livestock and natural water contamination are parts of life. But tobacco (and nicotine and tar) ingestion is different. And based on recent studies, candy might be different, too. Researchers now say that processed foods that contain large amounts of fat and sugar – and minimal nutrients – might be altering the brain in a way that seems a lot like addiction. Professor of Psychology and Public Health at Yale, Kelly Brownell, suggests that the findings may mean that food companies could be facing lawsuits similar to those filed against the tobacco companies; and for the same reasons. She points out that people knew about the deadly effects of tobacco for a while, but once they discovered the calculated manipulation of the product – to keep consumers addicted – people started going after the tobacco companies.
There have been some gravely disturbing studies conducted which give a whole new meaning to the term “sugar high.” In one study, obese women were given MRI scans while they sipped milkshakes. Then they were given the same scans half a year later. Those women who had gained weight showed less activity in the “reward” center of the brain. This showed that the sugar had desensitized the reward centers in the brain, meaning that the women had to drink MORE milkshakes to get the same “pleasure.” This is a by-the-books example of increasing tolerance for a drug. Cocaine users report that months after they start using the drug, they no longer feel the same effect from the initial amount and need to increase their usage to enjoy the drug in the same way that they did when they started.
Another study involved giving rats sugar water every day. As the study went on, the rats drank more and more of the sugar water and less and less of their usual diet. When the rats were given a drug to block the effects of sugar, the rats exhibited severe withdrawal symptoms including tremors and shakes. When sugary foods, such as bacon and pound cake, were put into the rat cages, the animals would begin to binge eat and ignore their usual, nutritious diet.
The studies support what parents everywhere have known for generations.
These medically-advised conclusions don’t mean that candy will be pulled from the shelves of your grocery store. But then again, cigarettes haven’t been either. Nevertheless, it’s safe to assume that more attention will be given to the issue and future regulations may be enacted. High-sugar candies do, in fact, have harmful effects on the human body and have neurological effects similar to those activated by nicotine. Now those chocolate-flavored cigarettes don’t seem so peculiar.
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