Trying to get in shape isn’t the only reason to skip dessert: consuming high-fructose corn syrup is bad for your brain, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Physiology, the AFP reports.
In the six-week study, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup, an ingredient found in soft drinks, candies and other processed foods.
One of the groups was also fed omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods such as salmon and walnuts and which are known to promote heart and brain health. This group of rats was fed the fatty acids via flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The other group of rats did not consume omega-3s.
For five days before the study, both groups of rats practiced running through a maze. After the six-week study, both groups were observed in the maze again.
“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”
Scientists also discovered that the brains of the omega-3-deprived rats had begun to resist insulin, a hormone critical to brain function and to blood sugar regulation.
“Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes upwards of 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup a year. But a diet rich in omega-3s can help keep your brain sharp, says Gomez-Pinilla.
“Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”