Everyone knows sugar is bad for the body, but new research from UCLA shows it’s bad for the brain as well. Scientists also believe that omega-3 fatty acids can help counteract the learning and memory disruptions created by processed sweetener.
Researchers fed rats a solution of water spiked with high-fructose corn syrup. The animals drank the sweetened substance for just six weeks, but Americans consume it all year around – more than 40 pounds on average – as an additive to everything from ketchup to baby food. Half the rats were also given omega-3 supplements.
Before starting their experimental diet, the rats practiced navigating a maze with visual landmarks to help them find their way to the only exit.
After six weeks of fructose, the rats who didn’t receive omega-3s were slower in the maze, and had trouble remembering the route they had learned. They also showed signs of resistance to insulin, which controls blood sugar and regulates brain signals. Omega-3s are necessary to help brain cells transmit signals to each other, making learning and memory possible, and supplements seemed to protect those chemical connections in the brains of some of the rats.
Though this study was in rats, rather than humans, lead author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA neurosurgeon, suggests people should minimize their processed fructose intake as much as possible (fructose found naturally in fruits, which also contain antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients, is fine) and choose snacks like fresh berries and Greek yogurt. And as a nutritional insurance policy (and to counteract those moments of weakness in the ice cream aisle), boost intake of omega-3-rich foods like salmon and walnuts or take a daily supplement containing 1 gram of DHA.