This is Your Brain on Sugar

May 19, 2012
Categories: Kids, Nutrition, Omega 3, Sugar

Remember Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign from the 80’s dedicated to educating kids about the dangers of doing drugs?  One memorable commercial had the egg frying in the pan and the slogan – this is your brain on drugs.   The slogan for the commercial with the fried egg today could be “this is your brain on sugar.”

Not Just Empty Calories

We all know that super sweet foods and drinks are not good for us.  But mounting evidence is revealing that they are not just harmless empty calories.  Several studies have already linked consumption of sugar and high fructose corn syrup to obesity and increased risk of a host of diseases – including diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.  But one of the newest
studies out of UCLA, indicates that added sugars might just “make you dumber.”  Fortunately, the study also revealed a magic bullet that can make your brain work smarter, even reversing some of the effects of fructose – omega 3s.

In the study, UCLA researchers put rats in a maze and gave them a few days to navigate and remember how to get around. Then they removed the rats from the maze for a 6 week period.  During this time, one group of rats were fed an omega-3-rich diet, the other two groups consumed omega 3 deficient diets; one of which also drank a fructose solution in place of water.  After the six weeks period on these diets, the researchers put the rats back in the maze to see how well they recalled it and performed.

  • The rats with the omega-3-rich diet performed the best – completing the maze the fastest.  The omega 3-deficient rats took longer to find their way around. But the rats that drank the fructose solution performed the worst having the most problems with memory and recall.
  • “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” study researcher Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, of the University of California, Los Angeles, 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.”

The average American consumes roughly 142 pounds of added sugar a year (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to 8 teaspoons a day total.  Not an easy task considering 1 can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons alone.  The average American consumes more than 3 times the recommended amount of added sugar each day.  Over half of all 8 years olds drink a soda each day, and one third of teenage boys are drinking 3 cans of sodas per day.

Researchers point to insulin – which affects not only blood sugar, but it also the way in which brain cells function.  When we consume too many sweetened beverages and foods, our bodies become less able to process them, leading to a condition called insulin resistance – which can also lead to stubborn weight gain and even diabetes and other diseases overtime.

UCLA researchers were sure to clarify that there is a difference between naturally-occurring sugars, and those that are manufactured and added to foods and drinks. This is an important distinction, because the brain relies on sugar or glucose as it’s primary fuel.  Research shows that too much added sugar, can actually deprive your brain of glucose, compromising the brain’s power to concentrate, remember, and learn.“We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” explained Gomez-Pinilla. “We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”  Whole fruit also contains fiber, which helps to prevent insulin spikes and many American diets are lacking.  But once a person has insulin resistance or diabetes, their body can even have trouble processing the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and other foods.

Luckily, taking omega-3s appears to counteract the negative effect of the fructose, even potentially reversing insulin resistance. The omega 3 rich diet had other protective effects beyond our brains.  The rats who consumed less omega-3s had higher triglyceride, glucose and insulin levels: which is associated with a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. But the good news – the study found that omega 3s could reverse the insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).

The best sources of omegas 3 fatty acids are fatty cold-water fish like salmon, fish oil supplements, chia, flax and hemp seeds, tree nuts, and seaweed/algae supplements.

So what is the bottom line if you want your brain to work smarter?  Get your omega-3s, and limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks.  And researchers say it is never too early to start.  “Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “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.”

Here is a list of eleven other foods that can boost brain functioning too.

Read more:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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