October 31st marks the most wonderful day of the year. Halloween, yes, but also the day I lose track of how many Reese’s Pumpkins I eat (with no shame). Research has shown that sugar affects us much like an addictive drug, but what’s actually going on? Here’s how all that Halloween candy affects your brain.
You get a rush of dopamine.
Once you get a taste of whatever sweet treat you’ve selected, your brain has a strong dopamine response. As you may remember from your high school psychology class, dopamine is often described as a feel good neurotransmitter. It’s a lot more complicated than that – and calling it the happy hormone isn’t entirely accurate – but dopamine does have a big role in reward processing. In short, the dopamine response when you anticipate delicious candy and then eat delicious candy makes you feel really dang good.
Those good feelings make you want even more candy.
Because we’ve gotten that dopamine response and we feel good, we want more. The pleasure that we experience while we both anticipate and eat sugar reinforces our desire for the candy – hence why it can feel impossible to get our hands out of the Halloween candy bowl! Luckily, on Halloween, candy is not in short supply.
After the candy comes the crash.
When you eat a lot of simple carbohydrates – like sugar – your body produces insulin in an attempt to stabilize your blood sugar. The influx of insulin causes your blood glucose to lower, which results in a lovely sugar crash. This can result in a lot of different things, including fatigue, brain fog, headaches, trouble concentrating, and, of course, more hunger.
Use Halloween candy to your advantage.
We’re not here to be a total Debbie Downer about your Halloween candy loot. After all, it’s only once a year! If you want to feel better about your candy consumption, dig into your stash while you’re studying for your next big exam – the flavors might actually help you retain information.
According to a 2014 study from University of Haifa and the Riken Institute, there is a link between the part of the brain responsible for our taste memory and the area responsible for encoding the time and place where we experienced said taste. In other words, taste candy during your exam and you’re more likely to remember the information you were studying when you ate the candy last.
It’s no secret that eating a ton of sugar is not great for our health, and that includes our brain health. Then again, Halloween is only one night a year. Life is short. Eat the candy.