Add memory loss and brain fog to the growing list of health risks associated with the fructose found in soft drinks, applesauce, baby food and wherever manufacturers want extra sweetness. Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles have just published a study in the May 15th Journal of Physiology showing that rats given a diet high in fructose became steadily dumber.
The researchers set out to test the effect of fructose on the brain and to determine whether any harmful impacts could be lessened by diet. They chose fructose because it is so widely used by food manufacturers that Americans consume an average of 35 pounds annually of one form: high-fructose corn syrup.
Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, explained the study’s focus:
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.
For five days, the rats were fed standard rat chow and trained in a maze. Then their drinking water was replaced with a fructose solution. They were divided into two groups. The second was given flaxseed oil and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as well as their rat chow. Six weeks later the two groups of rats were tested to see how well they remembered the maze, with its visual cues and one escape route.
The UCLA study confirms the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Gomez-Pinilla said:
The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids. The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.
Dr. Gomez-Pinilla points to fructose as the probable culprit. Consuming too much may disrupt insulin’s ability to influence brain cells, leading to memory loss and impaired thinking.
So Dr. Gomez-Pinilla suggests those sweet indulgences be balanced with DHA, which is found in omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds. He says DHA is “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.”
Related Care2 Stories
Photo credit: Thinkstock