Too much sugar is linked to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and tooth rot, and now, new research suggests that it may also be rotting your brain.
A study testing the effects of sugar on rats found that too much of it could be adversely affecting memory. While scientists aren’t quite sure why or if humans would be affected in the same way, it’s particularly worrying that other labs have reported the same results.
“We have seen it so consistently that it’s a problem,” says researcher Dr Kieron Rooney.
“We’re talking about an animal wandering around a cage which does not quite remember where something in it was 10 minutes ago.”
While that may sound scary to many who have a high-sugar diet, there is a positive flipside, with the same research showing that these effects may be reversible.
Seven weeks, it seems, is all it takes to quit sugar and regain memory.
The University of Sydney study gave rats an unlimited supply of sugar-water equivalent to that found in soft drinks, for around eight weeks, to see how it affects memory.
The rats consuming sugar-water weren’t able to remember the location of things in their cages.
These same rats were then given water only for seven weeks before their memory returned to normal.
“Our data in rats seems to show we have the capacity to recover. But it seems to depend on how long you’ve been consuming the sugar for,” says Dr Rooney.
Another study at Macquarie University, led by Professor Richard Stevenson, found that in just four days of eating a toasted cheese sandwich plus a bottle of chocolate milk for breakfast, brain function in rats was significantly reduced.
Prof Stevenson believes that it’s probable sugar would have a similar effect on humans, although it was not yet confirmed.
“At the moment, we don’t know why sugar has this effect,” says Dr Rooney.
“Is it a secondary effect to sugar making you fatter? Fat cells produce lots of hormones that can influence how we behave and what we eat. Whether they have other effects on how our brains function is a really important question.”
Prof Stevenson added: “The hippocampus seems to be especially vulnerable to damage. Poor sleep, epilepsy, diabetes, depression, stress – and many, many other things too – all seem to start by damaging the hippocampus.”
Other research suggests that too much sugar could be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
“You just need to look at Alzheimer’s, a condition characterised by memory loss. Some people call Alzheimer’s ‘type 3 diabetes’. That’s due to the severe insulin resistance caused by high sugar levels that’s a signature of that disease,” said Monash University Associate Professor Zane Andrews.
Do you worry that you consume too much sugar? Have you ever found that your memory fades after a sugar binge?