According to the World Health Organization, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sugar is 25grams, which comes to a maximum of 6 teaspoonfuls every day.
Yet, studies have shown that the average American takes an average of 225 grams per day –that’s 9 times the recommended daily intake. Little wonder the American society and the world at large is battling a global pandemic in the form of obesity, and its cousins type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to information and avid food research, most people now know that sugars contain very high calorie content, which can result in significant health problems. What many don’t however, is that excess sugar consumption can impair brain health and functions.
Ergo, excess sugar intake can make you less smart. How’s that for reality check. In fact, there are quite a number of studies corroborating this statement and showing the negative impact of sugar on brain health.
Sugar-Based Eating And Reduced Brain Function
Eating too much sugar often alters the population and specific types of gut bacteria, which play a role in the improvement of cognitive functions.
With these bacteria’s largely reduced population, the brain’s ability to adapt to new situations and challenges is sorely compromised, resulting in an impaired ability to solve problems creatively. Bottom line, excess sugar equals slow thinking.
An Oregon State University release also showed that there’s a definite link between gut health and brain health. According to the release, “It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain… Bacteria can release compounds that act as neurotransmitters, stimulate sensory nerves or the immune system, and affect a wide range of biological functions… We’re not sure just what messages are being sent, but we are tracking down the pathways and the effects.”
This is just one of the many studies further demonstrating the link between your food and your brain function.
How Insulin Resistance Affects Cognitive Function
A 2012 study on the impact of high fructose corn syrup on rats’ brains indicated that rats tended to struggle with getting out of mazes when they were placed on the high fructose corn syrup diet.
But when they were placed on a regular diet, they remembered their way just fine and got out effortlessly. This happened because the rats couldn’t just recall what they’d learned a few weeks before being placed on that diet.
It gets worse: the rats showed clear signs of insulin resistance, a condition that often precedes diabetes. But that’s not the real issue per se. The real issue is that insulin, which is capable of crossing the blood brain barrier has been found to aid neurological processes that affect memory function, resulting in improved recall and information retaining.
As a result, it is possible that eating too much sugar can affect the brain’s neurological processes, causing cognitive impairment and slower brain function.
Can Omega-3 Aid Brain Function Even in the Presence of Excess Sugar?
A part of the 2012 study, included one where the rats were also given the same amount of high fructose diet for 6 weeks, but with additional omega-3 supplementation in the form of DHA and flaxseed oil.
The study showed that rats that had the omega-3 supplementation enjoyed better health and had improved cognitive functions compared to those that were on just the diet without the supplements.
The researchers therefore concluded that given omega-3’s neuroprotective capabilities, it was able to protect the brain from the degenerative effects of the sugars. This is not surprising considering that omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to aid the brain’s ability to transmit information and signals.
The thing is the only way to get these omega-3s –DHA in particular- is from external sources. That’s right… your body doesn’t produce these compounds. You would have to source them, usually from omega-3 rich foods such as fish –tuna and salmon, or take omega-3 supplements –krill oil supplements is a pretty good source.
Unfortunately, healthy eating is a lifestyle choice, and most of those who seek out high fructose corn syrup based foods tend to not pay attention to things like omega-3 supplements.
Naturally, this results in those folks suffering slower brain and cognitive functions compared to their colleagues or friends who eat healthier and ere likely to take the omega-3 or DHA supplements.
High Blood Sugar and Poor Memory Function
High blood sugar doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes or are suffering from some form of insulin resistance.
However, just because you don’t have any of those conditions doesn’t mean that your increased blood sugar levels cannot negatively impact your memory. In fact, studies have showed a clear link between increased blood sugar levels and reduced memory keenness.
The Link between Dementia and Insulin Resistance
Studies are beginning to show that consistent blood sugar spikes may contribute to early onset dementia. This happens because your pancreas becomes overworked by producing far too much insulin.
As a result of this prolonged deluge of insulin in the bloodstream, the brain’s insulin signaling capabilities gradually slow down and eventually stops. When that happens, the brain’s ability to recall and stay keen becomes compromised leading to an early stage dementia triggered by partial brain damage. It’s no wonder scientists nicknamed Alzheimer’s disease as the type 3 diabetes.
This was primarily borne out of the clear link between poor, sugar rich, hyperglycemia episodes and declined mental/memory function. Alzheimer’s patients tend to consistently have fewer brain insulin receptors as well as low insulin presence in the body.
As a result, medical experts are beginning to recommend proper, healthy, non-sugar and high vegetable diets as a means of preventing Alzheimer’s. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you realize that there are studies linking high carb food consumption with a higher risk of dementia.
The Link Between Your Brain and Gut Health
In case you didn’t know, there a direct link between your gut and brain. If you disrupt the microbiome in your gut, your brain will most definitely pay for it. Courtesy of your enteric nervous system, your brain can often detect what the food you’ve eaten is and react accordingly. It also detects how healthy your gut is.
So, when you eat certain foods, you end up triggering a series of chemical reactions that can either impact your brain positively or negatively.
When you take high sugar foods, it disrupts the balance of the gut bacteria in the belly, resulting in compromised immunity, brain fog and mental lethargy among others.
The relationship between the gut and brain is aptly summarized in the Scientific American journal. There it says, “The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.”.
In simple English, it means that if you can improve your healthy gut bacteria, your brain function will also improve, resulting in a keener, sharper mind.
So, What Can You Do?
Well, first on your list should be a drastic cut back on refined sugar intake. Anything more than 25grams -5 teaspoonfuls- per day is toxic and dangerous to both your physiological and brain health.
And if you’re already obese, overweight, prediabetic or diabetic, reduce your sugar consumption to a maximum of 15g daily. Instead, eat more natural, low refined sugar foods, and cut back on excessive carb intake.
Also look for foods that improve gut health like probiotics, unsweetened or organic yoghurts, fermented foods and veggies. Drink more clean water, start being more active and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
All of these combined will do wonders for your brain health, and drastically lower your risk of developing food or sugar related brain conditions.