For years we have been told that sugar is bad for our waistlines and puts massive risk to our hearts health, but now there is growing evidence to prove that high levels of sugar can have a major negative impact on our brain from its psychological wellbeing to its cognitive function.
Sugar on its own in small quantities is not a great concern, but the problem is we are simply just eating too much of it in its many differing forms within our day-to-day food.
Its pretty much all the sweet stuff we like to eat and presents itself to us with different names like glucose, fructose, honey and corn syrup, all of this cleverly disguised in around 74 percent of packaged foods in our supermarkets.
Despite the World Health Organization recommending that only five percent of our daily calorific intake comes from sugar, the typical American diet comprises of a well over double that amount at a staggering 13 percent coming from sugar.
Natasa Janicic-Kahric, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, told The Washington Post: ‘Many Americans eat about five times the amount of sugar they should consume,”
Getting hooked on sugar is easy, but it’s important to be aware how much a high sugar diet imposes on mental well-being and brain function.
Here are some facts that you need to know about how too much sugar can affect your brain
It creates a vicious cycle of intense cravings.
When a person consumes sugar, it activates the tongues taste receptors, just like any food. Signals are then sent to the brain, lightening up the reward pathways, releasing a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine. While stimulating the brain’s reward system with a piece of chocolate now and then being harmless, if the reward system is activated too frequently then that’s when the problems start to occur.
Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explains:“These added sugars are sneaky – and unbeknown to many of us, we’ve become hooked. In ways that drugs of abuse – such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin – hijack the brain’s reward pathway and make users dependent”
In fact, research has shown that the brains of obese children actually light up differently when they taste sugar, reflecting an elevated “food reward” response. Disturbingly this suggests that their brain circuitry may predispose these children to a lifetime of intense sugar cravings.
Neuroscientist Nicole Avena explained in a TED-Ed video: “Over-activating this reward system kick starts a series of unfortunate events — loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar,”
It may cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.
Have you ever experienced a sugar crash? If you have then you may be aware that sudden peaks and drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, fatigue and brain-fog. That’s because drinking a soda or eating sweets causes blood sugar levels to spike upon consumption and then plummet. When your blood sugar inevitably dips back down (hence the “crash”), you may find yourself feeling anxious, moody or depressed.
Consuming sugar stimulates the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Sugar-rich and carb-laden foods can also mess with the neurotransmitters that help keep our moods stable. Constantly over-activating these serotonin pathways can deplete our limited supplies of the neurotransmitter, which can contribute to symptoms of depression, according to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, functional medicine expert and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?
A recent study on adolescent mice, conducted by researchers at Emory University School of Medicine, found a diet high in sugar to contribute to depression and anxiety-like behavior which might go along way to understanding how Teenagers may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of sugar on mood.
Research has also found that those people who eat a standard whole food diet that’s lower in sugar are at a decreased risk for developing depression, compared to those who eat a typical American diet that’s high in processed foods — which often contains high amounts of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
It impairs memory and learning skills.
A 2012 study on rats, carried out by researchers at UCLA, discovered that a diet high in fructose, just another word for sugar, literally slowed down the brain and hindered learning and memory. The researchers discovered that the rats who consumed too much fructose had damaged synaptic activity in the brain which impaired the communication among brain cells.Excessive sugar intake caused the rats to develop resistance to insulin – the hormone that controls blood sugar levels and regulates the function of brain cells. When insulin levels in the brain are lowered as the result of excess sugar consumption, cognition can be impaired because Insulin strengthens the synaptic connections between brain cells, helping them to communicate better and thereby form stronger memories.
Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain,” He added that “Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”
It’s a risk factor for age-related cognitive decline and dementia.
Further research suggests that a sugar-heavy diet which messes with the insulin resistance and blood glucose levels – all hallmarks of diabetes could also increase risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers, in fact, have even referred to Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 Diabetes” — which suggests that diet may have some role in an individual’s risk for developing the disease.
The research “offers more evidence that the brain is a target organ for damage by high blood sugar,” endocrinologist Dr. Medha Munshi told the New York Times.
So armed with all of that knowledge, now might be a good time to choose to be smart, after all, intelligence is sexy, sugar-addled brains are not.