Sugar’s Effect on the Brain

Sugar is a hot button topic. Some say everyone should avoid it completely, others binge on sugar laden products, and every view in between exists as well. “Everything in moderation” is a popular phrase that probably a lot of Americans take. However, the average American actually eats 5x the daily recommended amount of sugar every day.

Crazily enough, sugar was originally promoted as a health food! Mothers were encouraged to feed their children sugar to give them energy, and adults were encouraged to consume sugar to fight fatigue. Check out these vintage ads that encouraged sugar consumption!

While sugar has MANY detrimental effects on our bodies as a whole, for this post we will focus on the detrimental effects it has on our brains.

1-Sugar affects your memory. The Hippocampus is the part of the brain that is associated with memory. It’s where your emotions and memories are housed. A study performed on rats showed that when fed a high sugar diet, they had deficits in their hippocampal dependant memory. While the rats fed a high sugar diet also gained weight, the weight gain itself did not trigger the memory loss, the sugar itself did. The sugar is believed to cause inflammation in the brain, which is thought to cause the memory impairment. Now for the good news-the sugar induced brain damage is reversible! A 2017 study also in rats shows that eating a low sugar and low GI diet reversed the memory impairment!

2- Sugar is addictive- The brain actually responds stronger to sugar than it does to many hard drugs, according to a study done by Connecticut College. In a separate study, rats who were fed oreos were found to mimic addictive behaviors, including withdrawal, craving, and bingeing. The study concluded this is likely the exact same for humans as well. Sugar produces opioids and dopamine, and gives you a high, just as something like cocaine would. Also like cocaine, in order to keep achieving that same high, the body requires more and more in higher quantities. It’s a cycle with bad side effects.

3-Sugar is linked to depression- Eating a high sugar diet has been linked to an uprise in depression, and that uprise is even higher with individuals who already have the mental illness schizophrenia. There are many studies that concluded with a link between high sugar consumption and depression. If you’re not convinced, just a quick google search will yield many results. A website called Food For Thought posted the following about sugar and mental health:

There is a direct link between mood and blood sugar balance. All carbohydrate foods are broken down into glucose and your brain runs on glucose. The more uneven your blood sugar supply the more uneven your mood. In fact, our experience at the Brain Bio Centre is that poor blood sugar balance is often the single-biggest factor in mood disorders amongst the people that seek our advice.
Eating lots of sugar is going to give you sudden peaks and troughs in the amount of glucose in your blood; symptoms that this is going on include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating (especially at night), poor concentration and forgetfulness, excessive thirst, depression and crying spells, digestive disturbances and blurred vision. Since the brain depends on an even supply of glucose it is no surprise to find that sugar has been implicated in aggressive behaviour, anxiety, and depression, and fatigue .

Those are just 3 ways that sugar affects the brain, all with detrimental consequences. This is by no means exhaustive, but even just the 3 ways are enough to put the brakes on sugar, especially when considering this doesn’t even touch its effect on the liver, heart, and other organs!

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