Sugar Impairs Memory and Learning Ability

new study from UCLA suggests that fructose could negatively impact memory and learning ability. That’s bad news for the average American, who consumes about 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year!

For the study, researchers set out to test brain efficiency and memory changes in a group of rats based on varying intakes of fructose and omega-3 fatty acids. First, researchers spent 5 days training the rats to complete a maze. They then divided the animals into two groups and ceased training for a period of 6 weeks.

Both groups received a standard food allotment and drank a water-fructose solution throughout the six week period. But the second group’s water was also supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and DHA, which are thought to protect chemical connections in the brain that enable memory and learning.

During the follow-up test (after 6 weeks without training), the rats who consumed the fructose water without omega-3s took longer to finish the maze, and had higher triglycerides, insulin, and glucose levels.

The study’s lead researcher, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, believes that fructose was the culprit behind the DHA-deficient rats’ brain dysfunction. He explained that eating too much fructose could block insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for energy, which is a requirement for processing thoughts and emotions.

He was quoted: “Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may also 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.”

Does this mean we should totally avoid sugars…especially fructose? Not necessarily.

Gomez-Pinilla explained: “We’re less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

Image Credit: Nagatta/Flickr