A diet high in sugar slows down the brain, research finds.
Both memory and learning were weakened by a diet high in fructose (sugar).
However, omega-3 fatty acids can help fight the problem, the scientists also discovered.
Around 1g of DHA a day could be enough to help counteract the deleterious effects of sugar.
Professor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, study co-author, said:
“Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think.
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 study gave some rats a high fructose solution to drink for six weeks.
Another group were also fed omega-3 fatty acids.
Professor Gomez-Pinilla explained the results:
“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.”
Professor Gomez-Pinilla advises that we should keep sugary food intake to a minimum:
“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.”
Omega-3, though, can help protect the brain, Professor Gomez-Pinilla said:
“Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Physiology (Agrawal & Gomez-Pinilla, 2012).