New Research: High-Fructose Corn Syrup Sabotages Learning & Memory

A glass dish filled with yacon syrup
It’s hard to find a pantry without high fructose corn syrup. It’s in cereals, salad dressings, baked goods, fruit juices, crackers and even baby formula. And many of us grew up on it, sucking down the sweetener in pitchers of sweetened juice and eating it every morning in our breakfast cereal.

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A new UCLA rat study is the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning — and how omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption.

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The study focused not on naturally occurring fructose but instead on high-fructose corn syrup, a substance which is a whopping six times sweeter than cane sugar and commonly used in a wide variety of processed foods and soft drinks.

UCLA Professor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, co-author of the study, stated that the rats that were fed the sugary diet showed a marked decline in their speed as well as a noticeable cognitive decline.

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“Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information,” said Professor Gomez-Pinilla. “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

These findings are especially noteworthy since previous research has only been able to link high-fructose corn syrup to health issues including obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and more. This is the first study investigating the repercussions of a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup on the brain.

“We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” said Professor Gomez-Pinilla, in order to clarify the important difference between the types of sugars. “We’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

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Gomez-Pinilla and the other co-author of the study, Rahul Agrawal, said that the sugary diet actually changed the brains of the rats in the experimental group.

“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,” Professor Gomez-Pinilla said.

After closely inspecting the brain tissue of the rats, they discovered that the insulin present had likely lost a great deal of its power to control brain cells.

The researchers think that eating a diet heavy in high-fructose corn syrup could actually hinder the ability of insulin to regulate how cells store and use sugar, thus impacting the brain’s ability to process thoughts, emotions as well as its learning and memory-storage capabilities.

Thankfully, they said that working foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids into one’s diet could actually help protect the brain from the potentially disastrous effects of a long term diet consisting of a great deal of high-fructose corn syrup.

“It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases,” Professor Gomez-Pinilla said.

Why Venus Williams Went Vegan

Venus Williams wearing a blue t-shirtCelebrity athlete Venus Williams was diagnosed with an incurable immune system disorder this past summer that caused her to reconsider her eating habits.

Through the recommendation of her sister, Serena, Venus began looking into holistic treatments for Sjogren’s Syndrome, which has no conventional remedies. The seven-time Grand Slam winner decided to give up meat and dairy opting for a raw, vegan diet to help manage her symptoms. Her sister Serena Williams has joined her and both tennis players have become role models for women who want to fully embrace alternative diets for health.

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The painful and debilitating symptoms of Sjogren’s caused her to cancel her second U.S. Open match, after winning the first back in August of 2011, and most recently the 2012 Australian Open.

She told People magazine that the diagnosis was a relief after years of going to doctors without results. ‘I would go to the doctor and start crying. I couldn’t help it. I just want a chance to play on the same field as other people, I want to feel normal, but as frightening as the diagnosis was, it was also a relief.’

Making preserving and improving health and fitness levels a New Year’s resolution is a noble goal for both men and women. However, if the William sisters use their collective star celebs power wisely as fit and trim celebrity athletes in the new year, they stand to help not only the African-American community who looks up to them as fashion icons and role models but also to help promote the health of all women.

Vegan Diet

A vegetarian diet is one of the common recommendations for people suffering from Sjogren’s Syndrome. Since it is considered an autoimmune disease, the dietary changes for Sjogren’s aim to reduce the impact of inflammation. Patients are advised to change to a vegetarian diet while increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals they consume from food sources.

There have been rumors among fans that Venus Williams may be on a gluten free diet. However, she has not confirmed this information, and her previous statements only mention a vegan diet. Although some medical experts recommend a gluten free diet for people with Sjogren’s Syndrome, there is still debate on this topic. Not everyone who suffers from Sjogren’s has celiac disease and requires a gluten free diet.

Venus has admitted to now carefully evaluating her food choices to reduce the impact of the disease and the adjustment bodes well for the future of her health.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian who has seen your health improve after eliminating meat or animal products from your diet? If not, do you know of anyone else that has?