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The Effects of Sugar on the Brain and Memory

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Americans are undeniably great consumers of added sugar. The average person’s intake is over 126 grams of sugar daily which is way too much. Sugar per se is not harmful but too much of it is detrimental to health. High sugar consumption has long been linked to weight gain, and the development of obesity and lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. More recent studies show that sugar can also induce memory problems and neuroinflammation.

A study conducted at the University of Southern California (USC) revealed that intakse of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) at levels similar to those in commonly available sugary beverages can trigger memory problems and brain inflammation. In the study, adolescent rats consuming high quantities of HFCS were subsequently found to have impaired hippocampal-dependent spatial learning and memory when subjected to the Barne's Maze test. Rats consuming a sucrose solution experienced moderate learning impairment. Adult rats given either HFCS or sucrose did not show any problems with spatial learning, glucose tolerance or neuroinflammatory markers. According to Scott Kanoski, one of the proponents of the research, the brain is vulnerable to dietary influences during critical periods of development, like adolescence. He further explained that a diet high in added sugar can not only cause weight gain and metabolic problems, but also impair brain function and cognitive ability.

This is supported by an earlier study at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) that tested the effects of fructose and omega-3 fatty acid consumption among rats. Two groups of rats were initially trained to find their way out of a maze. The results showed that long-term consumption of a high fructose diet by the rats negatively affected their cognitive function and ability to recall while omega 3 fatty acids were able to counteract those effects. After six weeks, the rats that consumed fructose forgot the previously learned escape route and developed signs of insulin resistance. The impaired learning and memory problems exhibited by this group of rats was attributed to insulin's inability to regulate how cells use and store sugar.

Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are liquid sweeteners often added to processed foods and common beverages such as soft drinks and juices. These added sugars are quickly absorbed in the blood where it lowers the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a substance known to influence the formation of new memories and regulate learning. Individuals with impaired glucose tolerance were found to have low levels of this chemical. Low levels of BDNF have also been associated with depression and dementia.

So before you drink your favorite juice or munch on a delectable dessert, remember that added sugars from such beverage and food items are likely culprits for health complications including poor memory and cognitive damage. Avoiding foods with added sugars will help you stay fit and keep your mind healthy.

References:

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/05/where-people-around-the-world-eat-the-most-sugar-and-fat/
  2. http://www.worldhealth.net/news/sugar-triggers-memory-problems-and-neuroinflammati/
  3. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/this-is-your-brain-on-sugar-ucla-233992
  4. http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/04/01/what-eating-too-much-sugar-does-to-your-brain/
  5. http://www.besthealthnutritionals.com/blog/2014/07/22/eating-sweets-can-rot-your-brain/
  6. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2683174/Is-SUGAR-responsible-rising-dementia-cases-High-levels-glucose-cause-memory-loss-study-finds.html
  7. https://pressroom.usc.edu/sugar-linked-to-memory-problems-in-adolescent-rats/
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201204/what-eating-too-much-sugar-does-your-brain
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