People who consume increased amounts of sugar in their diet are at a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. A new study says that sugar can even harm the brain just as abuse and stress.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales Australia shed light on the extent of damage sugar drinks can do to the brain. They observed extensive changes to the part of the brain that controls behavior and emotions in rats who consumed sugar-water.
The researchers used female rats to study whether or not the impact of early life stress worsens when sugary drinks are consumed. Female rats were used because they are more at risk of experiencing extreme life events.
They exposed half of the group to inadequate nesting material from the second to ninth day upon birth. After that, they were brought back to normal settings. The researchers performed this to trigger anxiety and stress in the rats.
In the experiment, the group was divided into four: the control group, rats not exposed to stress but were given sugar-water, rats exposed to stress and rats exposed to stress that drank sugar. Two groups received water and chow while the other two received regular diet with a 25 percent sugary solution for them to drink. The researchers followed the rats for around 15 weeks.
Brain scans were done to determine how the brain changes in relation to sugar consumption. The researchers found that the rats exposed to stress at early life were relatively smaller but grew bigger over time. The rats who consumed sugar in both the control and stress groups took in more calories.
They also found that prolonged intake of sugar in rats not exposed to stress upon birth had comparable changes in a part of the brain, hippocampus, as in rats exposed to stress without sugar-water consumption.
Put simply, the effect of sugary drinks on the brains of rats was similar to that caused by extreme early life stress. Another finding shows that a gene, dubbed Neurod1 and vital to nerve growth, was markedly reduced by both stress and sugar. This shows that drinking sugar at a very young age alters nerve growth in rats.
"The changes in the brain induced by sugar are of great concern given the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, with particularly high consumption in children aged nine to 16 years," the researchers said, adding that if the same process happens in humans, sugar consumptions must be reduced.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.
Photo : Jannes Pockele | Flickr