Sugar & Brain Damage
Sugar or what nutritionists refer to as Carbohydrates or Carbs is one of the most important parts of our diet. You ask why? Only because sugar is what gives us the energy to do work. Sugar is the fuel that keeps us running at the cellular level.
Glucose is one of the forms of sugar used by the body. It is crucial many cellular functions and its absence could lead to loss of consciousness and eventually death. Well, not yours, but that of the cell. This is exactly why the body has a superb mechanism in place to store all excess glucose as a reserve.
Every cell in the body needs energy in order to function. This applies to neurons too, the nerve cells that make up our brain. These cells need substantial amounts of glucose to keep them running. And this, in turn, keeps the whole body running. In fact, the brain uses almost 20% of the total energy that the body spends each day.
Well, not only is sugar essential, it also tastes good. Like, who doesn’t want dessert after dinner tonight? Once we eat sugar, the activated taste receptors send a cascade of signals to the brain. This includes the Dopamine pathway. Dopamine is one of the 4 ‘happy hormones’ in the human body. It is a neurotransmitter which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour.
Now you know why you can’t resist that dessert huh!
So Glucose surely feels like unicorn and rainbow in the brain, but what is really happening? The American Heart Association recommends individuals to restrict their sugar intake to 6 – 9 teaspoons per day. But the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons, which is in addition to the natural sugar present in the rest of the diet!! This wouldn’t matter if sugar, spice and everything nice really went hand in hand. But the problem here is that Sugar is believed to be one of the prime culprits in the rise of obesity in the US!
So how did we land ourselves in this mess?
Well, it’s the same mechanism at play. Every time we eat sugar, the brain is gushing gleefully. That sounds great, but you must remember that each time this happens the receptors slowly start getting desensitized. So the next time, you need half a teaspoon extra sugar to get the same sugar rush as last time. And the next time, just a little more. Eventually, this goes on until you’ve totally doped yourself out!
This cascading sugar-rich diet is the cause of a number of conditions that affect the human brain. Not many of us would think of sugar this way, only because of how awesome the sugar high feels. But that “Sugar High” is the elephant in the room that we all are missing.
4 Effects of Sugar on the Brain
Memory and Learning
A study done by Scott Kanoski, a professor at Perdue University showed that just three-days of increased sugar consumption results in impaired hippocampal function. The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. In the course of the research, rats were kept on a high energy diet or one that was nutritionally balanced. Meanwhile, they also had to learn how to navigate through a maze to find food at the other end. After just three-days, the rats on the sugar-rich diet were finding it harder to get to their food rewards. While the rats with a balanced diet continued navigating through the maze and finding their food without any difficulty. The hippocampus is particularly susceptible to this so-called high-energy diet.
If you paid attention to the way sugar interacts with the brain, you’d see that sugar is not just another nutrient that the body looks forward to. The response that it elicits is almost exactly like that of the body’s response to drugs. In fact, there was a study showing how sugar is just as addictive as cocaine. The dopamine response and sugar rush are strong enough to create a habit of sugar consumption and soon the person is addicted. We are seeing that addiction to foods, like sugars is so easily neglected only because it hits us at such a blind spot. “Food Addiction” is a serious problem that is soon catching up with the developed nations.
Depression and Anxiety
Once people realized how addictive sugar can be, one of the first things they try to do is break out of it. But we see that this act of breaking out of the habit is very similar to that of a drug withdrawal. People become extremely irritable and go through some horrendous mood swings before they come clean the other side. The withdrawal also includes recurring headaches, cravings, chills and loss of energy. The symptoms are so similar to that of drug withdrawal that at times it is hard to tell difference between some of the pretty hardcore drugs, and sugar.
It is seen that with long-term consumption of sugar, even the way a gene expresses itself changes. And this affects everything right up to the basic functions of the cell. High doses of artificial forms of sugar are seen to affect spatial understanding and lead to aggressive behavior. It was seen that continuous consumption of sugar from infancy to adulthood leads to increased social aggression.
Added sugar reduces BDNF, which stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF is a protein that plays a role in the growth and maintenance of neurons. It is usually active between nerve cells, where cells communicate with one another. Synapses or gaps between these cells adapt over time in response to experience. This is referred to as synaptic plasticity. BDNF helps regulate this synaptic plasticity which is absolutely necessary for cognitive development, learning and memory.
Sugar reduces the BDNF in the brain, which is linked to depression and dementia. More research on this subject is being conducted, but it is clear that sugar consumption is one of the worst inhibitory culprits.
So no matter what happens stay clear of Sugar cause you never know when the candy hijacks your brain and just takes you over!