High-fructose diet affects learning and memory, US animal-based study findings
A new study by scientists at the University California Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that a diet high in fructose can hamper memory and learning in lab rats. However, according to the same study, omega-3 fatty acids can counteract this disruption in the animals.
The peer-reviewed Journal of Physiology published the findings in its 15 May 2012 edition.
While earlier research studies had indicated how fructose harms the body through its role in diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. The researchers from UCLA say their latest study is the first to suggest how the sweetener may influence brain activity.
Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and colleagues studied two groups of rats that each consumed a high-fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks.
Professor Gomez-Pinilla said the study’s focus was on high-fructose corn syrup (an inexpensive liquid commonly added to processed foods) rather than naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which contain antioxidants.
The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects against damage to the synapses — the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.
The animals were fed standard rat chow and trained on a maze twice daily for five days before starting the experimental diet. The UCLA team tested how well the rats were able to navigate the maze.
Six weeks later, the researchers tested the rats’ ability to recall the route and escape the maze.
Professor Gomez-Pinilla said, “The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids.”
Professor Gomez-Pinilla said that consuming too much fructose could block insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions.