Haims: Sugar can rob your memory
Understanding the relation between sugar and the brain has become a hot topic recently. Emerging evidence suggests that added sugar (sugar not produced by the body) is linked to cognitive decline and a reduction in brain volume, learning disorders, and depression.
Even though the Framingham Heart Study may be best known for studying multigenerational cardiovascular concerns, new research has drawn a connection between sugar and the size of the hippocampus — the area of the brain that plays a major role in memory. Research also is showing that people with high blood sugar levels show significant decreases in brain volume in general. These symptoms are risk factors proving to be closely associated with cognitive decline.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is estimated that the average American consumes about 156 pounds of added sugar annually. If you do the math, at 16 ounces per pound, this results in 6.8 ounces of sugar a day. (156 pounds times 16 ounces equals 2,496 ounces per year. Divide 2,496 by 365 days and you get 6.8 ounces a day!) If that does not shock you, then let me make it a bit more real. One ounce of sugar equals about 6.8 teaspoons. Therefore, 6.8 ounces of sugar equals about 46 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Should you find this a bit incredulous and feel there is no way you could possibly be consuming anywhere near this amount of sugar, think about this:
- A 20-ounce Gatorade has more than 8.5 teaspoons of sugar
- A 12-ounce Coke has about 10 teaspoons of sugar
- A 12-ounce Red Bull has 9.25 teaspoons of sugar
- A slice of whole-grain bread (popular brand) can have 1 teaspoon of sugar
- Yogurt (popular brand) can have 4.5 teaspoons of sugar
Researchers have found that when excess sugar is consumed, the synaptic activity in the brain becomes damaged. Simply, communication amongst brain cells becomes impaired. Further, excessive sugars also inhibit the brain from breaking down glucose. Studies performed on human brains that did not efficiently break down glucose have shown increased amounts of beta amyloid protein plaques and tau tangles — hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sugar itself is not a problem for the brain. The problem is, we are consuming both too much and the wrong type. Table sugar, sucrose, is prone to cause metabolic stress with spikes in insulin levels and thus harms the human brain. However, natural sugars found in fruit and plants that contain fiber, vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants mitigate insulin spikes.
Sugar and depression
Too much sugar in the human body creates imbalances and spikes in the chemical makeup of the brain. When too much sugar exists, the body responds by changing dopamine and chromium levels, in addition to releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which, over time may lead to anxiety or depression.
There is much research about sugar and depression. Perhaps one of the more popular studies is the Whitehall II study. The almost 30-year study has provided great detail on cognitive function, mental disorders, cardiovascular disease, and physical functioning. One of the areas of focus was depression. The study found that when the consumption of sugar increased in men, so did the diagnosis of depression. While the study cannot prove a cause and effect relationship, the indication does seem noteworthy
Sugar is a nefarious product — it is in almost everything we eat. In many respects, it is quite similar to a drug. While most people think of sugar and their waistline, the evidence of its effect on cognition is hard to dispute. Unfortunately, while your waistline is a visible effect from excessive sugar, the effect on your brain is not. Education is the greatest defense to initiate change.
Moderate sugar intake now. Kicking the can down the street can be catastrophic in many ways.