Human World

Your brain on sugar

Photo credit: Helga Weber

Wait! Before you eat that ice cream ….

Did you know that binging on soda and sweets – for as little as six weeks – might do damage to your memory?

A new study suggests that a diet high in fructose – that is, sugars commonly derived from sugar cane, beets and corn – can slows your brain, hampering your memory and learning. Fortunately, this same study also suggests that eating foods that contain nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids – like walnuts, salmon, flax seeds and sardines – can counteract these negative effects.

The study, headed by neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla at the University of California Los Angeles, focused on high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid that’s six times sweeter than cane sugar. It’s used in many processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, apple sauce and baby food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup every year.

The study monitored two groups of rats. Each were fed regular food and trained on a maze twice daily for five days. They were then switched to a diet high in fructose for six weeks.

One group also received omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against damage to synapses — the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

After six weeks on their experimental diet, the rats were tested on the mazes again.

Of the two groups, the rats that received fructose without a supplement of omega-3 fatty acids were slower at completing the maze, and their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the maze route.

So what does this mean for us humans? In short, what you eat might have a big impact on how your brain functions.

Listen to the 90-second EarthSky podcast on how eating sugar can damage your memory, at the top of the page

Read more about the UCLA study

November 27, 2012
Human World

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