If I learned anything in college, it was how to study. A long night before a final involved a steady dose of Xbox breaks, deep conversations with roommates, and probably a couple of gallons of Dr. Pepper. And I guess a few notes as well, maybe a book or two. Yeah, let’s go with that. Perhaps not the most efficient techniques, but they worked for me.
Somehow, with those study habits, I made it through without too many scratches, but I couldn’t tell you how. And now, research from Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla’s lab at UCLA suggests that my diet may have been just as important as anything else. This study, published in the Journal of Physiology, describes how a steady diet high in fructose can impair normal learning and memory in rats.
I’m sure you’ve seen just as many commercials as I have speaking to or arguing against the evils of high-fructose corn syrup. Sure seems like a lot of money being used to convince us one way or another. We know that lots of sugar can harm the body, but Dr. Gomez-Pinilla and Dr. Rahul Agrawal wanted to know how it could affect the brain.
They performed their study in rats that had been trained in a maze for a few days beforehand. You know the drill, over time, they learn and get faster at completing the maze. Or at least they do if they’re not eating too much sugar.
The researchers were surprised to discover that a high fructose diet dramatically disrupted the rats’ ability to remember the maze, and they were much slower navigating it than counterparts would had been supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. They believe that these fatty acids are critical to protecting the brain from the damaging effects of massive sugar intake. In particular, high sugar intake led the rats to develop insulin resistance in their brain, which could really disrupt the normal signaling of brain cells.
Looking back, maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that I don’t remember anything from organic chemistry – I drank nothing but sugary soda through at least half of college. As I try to be a healthier person nowadays, I can only hope the effects are reversible. Better be on the safe side and just keep the sugar to a minimum kids – a healthy diet is indeed just as important for body as for mind.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.