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The average American consumes roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, mostly through processed foods like soft drinks, condiments, and desserts. Though previous studies have shown how these sweeteners harm the body through its role in diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver, it was unclear if they had impact on mental processes.
University of California, Los Angeles, researchers Rahul Agrawal and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla trained two groups of rats on a maze twice daily for five days before serving them a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against damage to the synapses or the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning. After this experimental diet period, the researchers tested the rats' ability to recall the visual landmarks the scientists installed to help them escape the maze.
The second group of rats remembered the correct route and were able to exit much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and flaxseed oil. A closer look at the brains of the DHA-deprived mammals showed a decline in synaptic activity and signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates synaptic function.
A high-fructose diet sabotages learning and memory, but omega-3 fatty acids can partially offset the damage.