Can Too Much Sugar Make You Stupid?
Dentists have long warned that too much sugar can rot a person’s teeth, but scientists at UCLA have discovered evidence that too much soda and candy could also rot a person’s brain.
The study, which was published Tuesday in the Journal of Physiology, discovered how a diet that is “steadily high” in fructose can slow down the function of the brain, impairing memory and learning ability, the Los Angeles-based university said in a May 15 press release. Those adverse effects, they say, can emerge in as little as six week’s time, but can be counteracted to some degree by adding omega-3 fatty acids to one’s diet.
“Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, one of the authors of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA said in a statement. “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”
“We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science as well as a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, added. “We’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”
Gomez-Pinilla and co-author Rahul Agrawal, a visiting postdoctoral fellow, studied two groups of rats that were given a solution that contained high-fructose corn syrup as drinking water for a six-week period, according to AFP reports. One of the groups was also given flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both omega-3 fatty acids, while the other was not.
Prior to the start of the experiment, both groups of rats completed a five-day training session on how to navigate a complex maze. Following six weeks of the corn syrup treatment, they were re-entered into the maze, and the researchers observed their performance. Gomez-Pinilla told AFP that the rodents that did not receive DHA and flaxseed oil were “slower” and demonstrated “a decline in synaptic activity.”
They also showed signs of insulin-resistance, according to the UCLA press release.
“Because insulin can penetrate the blood—brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss,” Gomez-Pinilla said. “Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning. Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”
“Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects,” he added. “It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases.”