There's been ample research revealing the damaging effects of fructose via its role in diabetes, obesity and fatty liver; now a new study is the first to show how the sweet stuff plays out in the brain.
"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information."
Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may impair cognitive abilities and disrupt insulin signalling.
The team from UCLA focused on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The darling of processed food manufactures, HFCS is six times sweeter than cane sugar and is regularly found in soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food, to name just a few of the places it lurks. The average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"We're not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants," explained Gomez-Pinilla, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center. "We're concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative."
Gomez-Pinilla suggests that people limit their fructose intake and switch sugar-rich desserts and sweet snacks for fresh berries and Greek yogurt, for example. An occasional bar of dark chocolate that hasn't been processed with a lot of extra sweetener is fine too, he said.
If you can’t quite give up your cookies, then also eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, or take a daily DHA capsule. Gomez-Pinilla recommends one gram of DHA per day.
"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."
The peer-reviewed Journal of Physiology published the findings in its May 15 edition.