A diet loaded with high-fructose corn syrup for as little as six weeks hinders the brain’s ability to learn and remember information, according to a new UCLA study conducted on rats.The study, published in the Journal of Physiology, is the first to show how a diet high in artificial fructose — an inexpensive sweetener commonly found it processed foods such as sodas, candies, fast food and even baby food — slows basic functions of the brain.
The UCLA team also found that omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish (especially salmon), flax seeds, walnuts and soy beans — counteracts the disruption.
Two groups of rats trained in a maze twice daily before starting a experimental six-week diet that included a fructose solution as drinking water. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids.
The researchers tested how well the rats were able to navigate the maze and set up visual landmarks to help them learn and remember the escape route.
After the six weeks, the team found that the second group of rats (i.e. those given omega-3s) navigated the maze much faster while those in the first group were unable to think clearly or recall the correct route as “high sugar consumption impaired cognitive abilities and disrupted insulin signaling,” according to the study.
What does this mean for humans?
The researchers concluded that a high-fructose diet over a long-term disrupts learning and memory while consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help minimize the damage, according to lead researcher and UCLA professor of neurosurgery Fernando Gomez-Pinilla in a press release.
The press release also noted that the average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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