The Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) will be presenting research at their upcoming annual meeting showing sugar can harm human brains.

The organization represents around 600 health professionals, from a wide range of disciplines, and they held their first meeting in 1992.

Researchers from SSIB found that daily consumption of the sweeteners sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), can lead to significant learning impairment, and loss of memory. Adolescents were found to be particularly susceptible to the effects of the chemicals.

Rats were provided with access to sweetened drinks, created to mimic sucrose and corn syrup concentrations found in popular soft drinks. Sucrose and HFCS concentrations were held at 11 percent during the study. Water was also available to the test rats, along with low-fat food.

After 30 days of consumption, adult rats performed normally on cognitive tests. Adolescents, however, suffered from challenges to memory and learning. These tests involved running rats through mazes, which is believed to be a reliable way of measuring the cognitive abilities of the rodents. The Barnes Maze Task, used by the researchers, tests the ability of the animals to remember paths they previously traveled.

"It's no secret that refined carbohydrates, particularly when consumed in soft drinks and other beverages, can lead to metabolic disturbances. However, our findings reveal that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is also interfering with our brain's ability to function normally... at least when consumed in excess before adulthood," Scott Kanoski of the University of Southern California, said.

Inflammation in the hippocampus, an area of the brain controlling memory and learning, was also observed in the study. This swelling could cause the loss of memory and learning capability in the animals, according to researchers.

Two types of cytokines, proteins vital to cell signaling, were found in elevated levels in adolescent rats who consumed the sweetened beverages. Adult animals did not show increased concentrations of the IL-6 and IL1-b cytokines.

"In many ways this region is a canary in the coal mine, as it is particularly sensitive to insult by various environmental factors, including eating foods that are high in saturated fat and processed sugar," Kanoski stated in a press release.

An article on the effects of sugar, published in the journal nature in 2012, labeled sugar as a toxic substance, and called for regulation of the foodstuff, similar to actions taken for tobacco and alcohol.

Whether or not these findings discovered in rats, also apply to humans, remains an unanswered question. However, Kanoski believes biological similarities between rats and humans, combined with the soda-like concentrations of the sweeteners, provides a valuable analogue between the two species.

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