Everyone knows that too much sugar is bad for your waistline, but did you know that it can also have a negative effect on your brain health as well? Huffington Post reports that sugar can affect both cognitive function to psychological wellbeing.
While sugar is nothing to be too concerned about in small quantities, most of us are simply eating too much of it. The sweet stuff — which also goes by names like glucose, fructose, honey and corn syrup — is found in 74 percent of packaged foods in our supermarkets. And while the Word Health Organization recommends that only 5 percent of daily caloric intake come from sugar, the typical American diet is comprised of 13 percent calories from sugar.
“Many Americans eat about five times the amount of sugar they should consume,” Natasa Janicic-Kahric, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, told The Washington Post.
It's easy to see how we can get hooked on sugar. However, we should be aware of the risks that a high-sugar diet poses for brain function and mental well-being.
Here's what you need to know about how overconsumption of sugar could wreak havoc on your brain.
It creates a vicious cycle of intense cravings.
When a person consumes sugar, just like any food, it activates the tongue's taste receptors. Then, signals are sent to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released. Sugar "hijacks the brain’s reward pathway," neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explained. And while stimulating the brain's reward system with a piece of chocolate now and then is pleasurable and probably harmless, when the reward system is activated too much and too frequently, we start to run into problems.
"Over-activating this reward system kickstarts a series of unfortunate events — loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar," neuroscientist Nicole Avena explained in a TED-Ed video.
In fact, research has shown that the brains of obese children actually light up differently when they taste sugar, reflecting an elevated "food reward" response. This suggests that their brain circuitry may predispose these children to a lifetime of intense sugar cravings.
It impairs memory and learning skills.
A 2012 study on rats, conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that a diet high in fructose (that's just another word for sugar) hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain. The researchers found that rats who over-consumed fructose had damaged synaptic activity in the brain, meaning that communication among brain cells was impaired.
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