This week Down Under

Anti-smoking drugs found to be effective for kicking the sugar habit

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags China

In the world’s first study of its kind, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology believe that anti-smoking drugs could be used reverse a global trend towards excess sugar consumption.

Neuroscientist Selena Bartlett said the study, published by international research journal PLOS ONE​, shows that drugs used to treat nicotine addiction could also be used to treat sugar fixations in animals.

Excess sugar consumption has been proven to contribute directly to weight gain. It has also been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels which control the brain's reward and pleasure centres in a way that is similar to many drugs of abuse including tobacco, cocaine and morphine​,” said Professor Bartlett.

After long-term consumption, this elevation reverses to prompt a reduction in dopamine levels, leading to higher consumption of sugar to get the same level of reward.

We have also found that as well as an increased risk of weight gain, animals that maintain high sugar consumption and binge eating into adulthood may also face neurological and psychiatric consequences affecting mood and motivation​.

Our study found that Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs like varenicline, a prescription medication trading as Champix which treats nicotine addiction, can work the same way when it comes to sugar cravings​.”

PhD researcher Masroor Shariff said the study also put artificial sweeteners under the spotlight.

Interestingly, our study also found that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin could produce effects similar to those we  obtained with table sugar, highlighting the importance of reevaluating our relationship with sweetened food per se​,” said Shariff.

Professor Bartlett said varenicline acted as a neuronal nicotinic receptor modulator (nAChR) and similar results were observed with other such drugs including mecamylamine and cytisine.

Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them​,” she said.

Further studies are required but our results do suggest that current FDA-approved nAChR drugs may represent a novel new treatment strategy to tackle the obesity epidemic​.”

The publication coincides with another paper by the team, on how the prolonged binging on sucrose can alter the morphology of medium spiny neurons in the brain’s nucleus accumbens shell. 

Published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, it shows that longterm chronic sugar intake can cause eating disorders and impact on behaviour.

Source: PLOS ONE
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor modulators reduce sugar intake.​”
Authors: S Bartlett, M Shariff, M Quik, J Holgate, M Morgan, OL Patkar and V Tam.

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Snags on the barbie: Aussie stereotype going strong

In Australia, the so-called barbecue capital of the world, almost two thirds of the population own a barbie—a figure that grows to three-quarters in country South Australia, according to new market research.


The Festival State is just ahead of the nation’s capital, where 73.5% of households have an outdoor hot plate, with Western Australia coming in third at 71.2%.

While barbecue ownership tends to be above average in rural households, those in capital-cities hover slightly below average, with Melbourne having the lowest rate of barbecue ownership at 60.1%.  

In 2015, 5.8m Australian households owned a barbecue, translating to 63.7% of the country, an increase of some 400,000 households since 2011. 

Last year alone, 347,000 Australian households reported buying a new barbecue, and 249,000 households said they intended to buy one at some point in the following year. 

Along with beer, beaches and sport, the barbecue is central to classic—and, admittedly, clichéd—notions of Australian identity, reaching its zenith with Paul Hogan’s famously ‘ocker’ TV advertisement urging the world to put another shrimp on the barbie​,” said Andrew Price of Roy Morgan Research, which carried out the study. 

So the fact that barbecue ownership is so widespread among Aussie households is no surprise. Nor is the fact that Australian-born Aussies are 50% more likely than their Asian-born counterparts to live in a household with a barbecue in it​.”

Contrary to opinion, WA wines can break into China’s vast market

A common belief that Western Australian wine volumes are not big enough to make any significant inroads into the Chinese market is incorrect, and the state’s wineries are in fact well placed to claim a portion of growing demand.

However, to capitalise on China’s potential, producers must consider certain key factors when exporting their wine, according to a report which looks at 26 wine producers across all WA wine regions.

There is a perception that WA’s wine production volume is too small to make any significant penetration into the Chinese market​,” said Jeremy Galbreath, of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

Our research, however, determined that there was a definitive market for premium wine in China and that WA was well poised to meet a slice of that demand, providing wine producers consider a few key aspects when exporting their wine​.”

Successful exporters must be creative around labels, colouring and wine descriptors, while investigating the value of creating new wine brands to target the Chinese market, he said.

They should also be aware of Chinese cultural ideologies with respect to colour when designing packing and developing their products, and realise how brand messages will be understood by the Chinese market.

The importance of precise marketing and branding of Western Australian wines was also highlighted as the impact of WA’s isolation presented additional challenges.

Outside of some knowledgeable wine consumers, even regions like Margaret River have little global recognition. This needs to change in order for Western Australian wine producers to successfully increase exports to China​,” said Associate Professor Galbreath.

Several participants in the research expressed that regional producers should investigate more thoroughly how they can collaborate or cooperate to increase the volume of their exports to China​.

This would help overcome some concerns about too many small producers acting alone, encouraging participation towards a common goal, and keeping individual brands intact​.”

China’s market is especially important for WA wine producers which, as the majority struggle to find profits, need to develop new business models at a time when the Australian dollar at its lowest point in years.

The time to develop partnerships with foreign investors is immediate​,” said Prof. Galbeath.

As there are an estimated 20,000 wine importers in China, the industry really needs to sort out who the best importers and distributors are for WA wine​.”

Otherwise, he said, many producers will spend far too much time and money trying to gain access to this massive market. Without trusted and focused distribution, frustration and failure is likely.

Related topics Formulation Oceania Food safety

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