Attention, college students cramming between midterms and finals: Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid.
A new UCLA study is the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning — and how omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption.
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup – a common ingredient in processed foods – as drinking water for six weeks.
One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the other group was not.
Before the sugar drinks began, the rats were enrolled in a five-day training session in a complicated maze. After six weeks on the sweet solution, the rats were then placed back in the maze to see how they fared.
“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“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.”
In other words, eating too much fructose could interfere with insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar, which is necessary for processing thoughts and emotions.
In the US, high-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in soft drink, condiments, applesauce, baby food and other processed snacks.
The average American consumes more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Update: “Sugary drinks linked to 180,000 global deaths; US ranks third.” CNN