New research has shown the deleterious effects of sugar consumption on brain development during adolescence. Sugar significantly impaired the performance of juvenile rats in a series of learning and cognition tasks staged by researchers from the Universities of Georgia and California. Although we already know plenty about how high sugar consumption is related to obesity and ill health, the study adds a new reason to avoid eating sugar, and especially to avoid feeding it to your children. 

Go Easy on The Sugar

sugar and the brain
The brain’s development can suffer when exposed to certain treats

Given the amount of s*gar consumed in the West the research should make for discomfiting reading. Even if a spoonful of the white stuff really does help the medicine go down – one teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4g – the average person in the US, the world’s highest consumer of sugar, now takes in more than 30 times that amount each day, or 126.4g. The world’s largest consumers are all in the developed Western world, perhaps with the exception of Mexico, in eighth place.

Top 10 global sugar consumers

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In 1915, the average American consumed 17.5lbs of sugar a year. In 2011, that number had risen to a whopping 150lbs a year, or roughly the weight of a fighter in the UFC’s lightweight division. 

Children are among the biggest consumers of sugar, with virtually every food product marketed for children containing some form of added sugar. In the United Kingdom, for instance, English children consume double the recommended amount of sugar each year, with the majority of their consumption coming from soft drinks; buns, cakes and pastries; sugars, including table sugar and preserves and spread; biscuits; breakfast cereals; and chocolate bars.
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In England, a third of children leave primary (elementary) school overweight or obese, and up to a quarter of five year olds suffer from tooth decay that causes them pain. Fat children are likely to become fat adults, and suffer from a variety of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

As part of the research, juvenile rats were given their normal chow and also an 11% sugar solution, which is comparable to a normal shop-bought soda.

Researchers first had the rats perform a memory task designed to measure episodic contextual memory – basically, to remember the context in which they had seen a familiar object before. The task focused on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that continues to develop through adolescence.

“We found that rats that consumed sugar in early life had an impaired capacity to discriminate that an object was novel to a specific context, a task the rats that were not given sugar were able to do,” the lead author of the paper comments.

A second memory task measured basic recognition memory. This task, by contrast, was not dependent on the hippocampus. Here, sugar had no effect on the animals’ recognition memory. The conclusion is clearly that sugar consumption can ‘selectively impair… hippocampal learning and memory.’

In order to try to understand why this was happening, the researchers looked to the microbiome, the ecosystem of bacteria inhabiting our body, which is often referred to as the body’s ‘second brain’.

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The body’s second brain? (No, not the abs: the gut.)

Further analysis determined that high sugar consumption had led to elevated levels of Parabacteroides in the gut. The better to understand the role these bacteria might be playing, the researchers increased levels of these bacteria in the guts of rats that had never confined sugar. Again, these animals showed impairments in both hippocampal dependent and hippocampal-independent memory tasks.

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The authors believe more research is needed to identify specific pathways along which this gut-brain signaling takes place.

“The question now is how do these populations of bacteria in the gut alter the development of the brain?” the lead author said. “Identifying how the bacteria in the gut are impacting brain development will tell us about what sort of internal environment the brain needs in order to grow in a healthy way.”

(1) Put that cookie down, NOW!! – Arnold Schwarzenegger – YouTube

Arnie’s memorable line

There are various other lifestyle changes which can lead to a better quality of life. For example, low testosterone levels in men can wreak havoc on their mental health.

Recent studies also showed that animal fat is necessary for a healthy brain, in spite of recent pushes to stigmatize the consumption of beef.

Gym supplements such as creatine can play a positive role for the brain’s functions and even boast promising nootropic properties.

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