By John Salak –
Sugar may be sweet but just about everybody knows that a steady diet of it can harm or even kill you. What’s worse is that for all the sugar warnings that have emerged in recent decades, consumers are still flooded with sugar-loaded products wherever they turn, all of which threaten them with promoting obesity, heart disease and even undermining their memory function.
Amazingly, little is known about how high consumption impacts brain development among children. Recent research by the University of Georgia in collaboration with the University of Southern California may have changed that. Their work shows that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in adolescence can hurt learning and memory functions during their adulthoods.
Using a rodent-based model, the researchers also discovered that changes in gut bacteria may be the key sugar-induced memory impairment. The study found that even changes in gut bacteria, called parabacteroides, could have debilitating impacts on individuals even if they didn’t consumer high levels of sugar.
“Early life sugar increased parabacteroides levels, and the higher the levels of parabacteroides, the worse the animals did in the task,” said first author Emily Noble, an assistant professor the University of Georgia. “We found that the bacteria alone was sufficient to impair memory in the same way as sugar, but it also impaired other types of memory functions as well.”
Children and adolescents are already at high risk from sugar. U.S. Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services recommends that added sugars should account for no more than 10 percent of an individuals daily calories. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the children ages 9-18 consume far more than that with the bulk of the calories coming from sugar-sweetened beverages.
The researchers based their conclusions after increasing sugar in the diets of rats by 11 percent and then have them perform a hippocampus-dependent memory task. “We found that rats that consumed sugar in early life had an impaired capacity to discriminate that an object was novel to a specific context, a task the rats that were not given sugar were able to do,” Noble said.
Other recognition memory tasks did not seem to be effect by surgar. “Early life sugar consumption seems to selectively impair their hippocampal learning and memory,” Noble said.
Obviously, more research is needed on the exact memory impact of sugar—and gut bacteria—on adolescents. But Noble noted her work still underscores the harmful impact of too much consumption.
The University of Zurich certainly agrees with Nobel’s assessment. It also warned that sugar’s negative impact goes beyond just weight gain and associated problems. Its research found that even consuming moderate amounts of added fructose and sucrose threatened to double body fat in an individual’s liver, which can increase the risk of developing diabetes.
The Swiss university’s research is based on studies of 94 young men who were given different types of sugary drinks each day for seven weeks. The participants did not consume more calories than before the study. The researchers, nevertheless, discovered that fructose and sucrose had particularly negative effects on these individuals.
“The body’s own fat production in the liver was twice as high in the fructose group as in the glucose group or the control group – and this was still the case more than twelve hours after the last meal or sugar consumption,” said study leader Philipp Gerber.
Gerber added that a surprising result of the study was that sucrose, the sugar most commonly consumed, boosted fat synthesis slightly more than the same amount of fructose, which most thought would drive fat increases.
Regardless of the type, consuming excessive amounts presents risks, such as fatty liver and type-2 diabetes. What’s too much? The World Health Organization recommends limiting daily consumption to no more than 50 grams a daily and preferably 25 grams. Many developed countries see average sugar consumption far above those levels.
“Our results are a critical step in researching the harmful effects of added sugars and will be very significant for future dietary recommendations,” Gerber added.