Sugar sabotages learning and memory
Along with making you tired, fat, and unhealthy, it turns out sugar might also make you stupid. Sheesh, as if we didn’t already have enough reasons to abstain!
While earlier research has revealed how fructose harms the body, this study from UCLA is the first to analyze how the sweetener influences the brain. According to the USDA, the average American consumes a whopping more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year. High-fructose corn syrup is an inexpensive liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar commonly added to processed foods, even when you don’t think they’re sweet.
“Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” explains Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. “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.”
As if there weren’t also enough reasons to take fish or flaxseed oil! “DHA is essential for synaptic function—brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to one another,” Gomez-Pinilla says. The omega-3 fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in flaxseed oil apparently protect against damage to the synapses that enable memory and learning.
The new UCLA study tracked rats and their abilities to navigate a maze after sugar consumption with or without DHA. Gomez-Pinilla suspects that eating too much fructose could block insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions. “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,” he said. “Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”
Still planning to try wedding cake, a post-dinner brownie, or a restaurant dessert? Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, or taking a daily DHA capsule, can mitigate the effect of sugar making you more stupid.