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Sugar Hurts Memory and Learning, While Omega-3s Protect

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Sugar Hurts Memory and Learning, While Omega-3s Protect

Exams coming up? Be careful what you eat. A diet regularly high in sugar could reduce your ability to learn.

Students preparing for exams this season might want to mind what they eat this spring. According to a new study by UCLA, binging on high-fructose corn syrup, a type of sugar, may lead to a significant decrease in mental performance.

“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. “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.”

While studies have shown how fructose can be harmful to the body in its role in diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver, the study is the first to show how sugar influences brain functions.

The study tested the effects of high-fructose corn syrup , commonly found in processed foods including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce, and baby food. According to the study’s media release, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American consumes more than 20 kg of high-fructose corn syrup per year. 

The Study
Researchers studied two groups of rats that each received a fructose solution in place of drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

Before administering the fructose diet, the rats were trained to navigate a maze. Once the rats had been administered the fructose diet for six weeks, they were evaluated on how well they were able to recall how to escape the maze.

The results showed the DHA-deprived animals were slower to navigate the maze and that they also suffered a decline in synaptic activity. The DHA-deprived rats also developed a resistance to insulin, which controls blood sugar and regulates synaptic functions in the brain.

“Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning,” Gomez-Pinilla said. “Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”

Importance of DHA in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Regularly consuming DHA protects the brain against the harmful effects of fructose. The body builds a reserve of DHA for your brain to tap when needed.

While we shouldn’t eat all the fructose we want and then supplement with DHA, it’s important to consume fatty acids in our diets because the body can’t make omega-3s on its own. Make sure to eat lots of salmon, walnuts, or take supplements.

Also, read up on how to keep your memory sharp.

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