Sugar Makes You Stupid!
At least that’s what we’re seeing in the news lately.
What’s the truth?
By Nurse Mark
Alarming headlines have been screaming “Sugar Makes You Stupid” for the last month or so. Opponents of high fructose corn syrup have gleefully taken up and misrepresented a recent study published in The Journal of Physiology.
On the other side of the argument The Corn Refiners Association is in full defense mode – calling the media interpretation of the study “scare tactics” and telling us that fructose, and especially high fructose corn syrup, are not so bad for us as long as they are used “in moderation.”
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between, and to be honest, the The Corn Refiners Association actually has a somewhat better take on the whole issue. They appear to have actually read the study carefully and have gleaned one of the major pearls from the conclusions of the researcher.
Let me explain:
The study, titled “‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signaling and cognition” was authored by Rahul Agrawal and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of UCLA. It appears to have been a well-conducted study and a link to the full text of the study can be found at the end of this article. For those who don’t want to struggle through all the scientific mumbo-jumbo (as usual, it will make your eyes glaze over…) they have summarized their work into some bullet points:
- We provide novel evidence for the effects of metabolic dysfunctions on brain function using the rat model of metabolic syndrome induced by high fructose intake.
- We describe that the deleterious consequences of unhealthy dietary habits can be partially counteracted by dietary supplementation of n-3 fatty acid.
- High sugar consumption impaired cognitive abilities and disrupted insulin signalling by engaging molecules associated with energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity; in turn, the presence of docosahexaenoic acid, an n-3 fatty acid, restored metabolic homeostasis.
- These findings expand the concept of metabolic syndrome affecting the brain and provide the mechanistic evidence of how dietary habits can interact to regulate brain functions, which can further alter lifelong susceptibility to the metabolic disorders.
OK, so even that is a little dense. Let’s translate that to something that people like you and me can understand. I’ll summarize and translate in order:
- They showed that high fructose sugar intake impaired brain function in rats.
- They showed that the impaired brain function could be counteracted with Omega-3 fatty acids.
- They conclude that high sugar consumption impairs brain function by disrupting brain energy metabolism and harming the way that brain cells communicate with each other, and that giving Omega-3 fatty acids (such as found in fish oil) repaired the damage and restored brain function.
- They conclude that dietary habits, both good and bad, affect brain function for better and for worse and that these habits can have long-lasting effects.
For those who are opposed to high fructose corn syrup, the study does not mention this substance anywhere – the sugar used was described as “fructose” – not “high fructose corn syrup.”
To say that “Sugar makes you stupid” is not correct in as far as this study is concerned. Can rats be smart or stupid? What it did show is that rats on high-sugar diets learned and remembered how to navigate a maze less well and that giving the rats Omega-3 fatty acids improved their abilities.
What is the take-home message in all of this?
Well, The Corn Refiners Association comes closest to getting it right when they say in their rebuttal:
“This is really a study about omega-3 fatty acids, not about sugars at all.”
James M. Rippe M.D., cardiologist and founder of Rippe Lifestyle Institute.
But even that is not really a correct statement, because the study was about sugars – and it showed that high sugar intakes and Omega 3 deficiencies both cause deteriorations in brain function, and it showed that Omega-3 fatty acids protect and restore that function.
So, what is our bottom line?
Remove all sugars from your diet to the very greatest extent possible. There is no known requirement for sugar in the human diet – it is NOT essential. Besides the apparent hit that a high-sugar diet can give to the brain, sugars cause a whole host of other problems, from obesity to insulin resistance, to the Advanced Glycation End-products or AGES that are a major factor in the damage to tissues that we see with ageing.
Be sure that you are receiving generous amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids ARE essential for human life. Some of the top foods for Omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish such as albacore tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel, Atlantic herring, swordfish, and lake trout. Unfortunately, many of these fish should be consumed in moderation because of the contamination by mercury and other pollutants that has affected them.
An alternative to eating large amounts of possibly-contaminated fish is to use a good-quality Omega-3 supplement.
When choosing an Omega-3 supplement, be sure to read the label – you are not so much concerned with the total amount of oil in the capsule (often expressed in scientific-sounding terms like “lipid concentrate, xxxx mg”) as you are with the exact amounts of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) that are contained. These two numbers will never add up to the total oil contained, so read the label carefully! And be sure that the product has been prepared by molecular distillation and that every batch is verified by an independent third-party lab to be free of PCB’s, heavy metals and pesticides. Cheap fish oils of dubious pedigree are never worth it!
Oh, and by the way: I don’t know about rats, but I do know that a high-sugar meal or snack will promptly put me into a stupor – we call it a “carb-coma” around here and it sure does make me feel stupid.
And your grandma? She was right: fish (and the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish) really are a “brain food”!
UCLA Rat Study full text: http://jp.physoc.org/content/590/10/2485.full
Corn Refiners Association rebuttal: http://sweetsurprise.com/press/response-ucla-rat-study
HealthBeat News Article “But I Only Use Organic Natural Sugars!” http://healthbeatnews.com/but-i-only-use-organic-natural-sugars/
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