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Fructose Alters Specific Brain Genes, But Omega-3 May Reverse Effects

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Fructose consumption alters specific brain genes, which may be linked to numerous diseases. However, it could be reversed by infusing omega-3 fatty acid into the diet, a new report has stated.

Gene mutations in the brain are associated with a range of medical ailments that include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's diseases, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Life scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that genetic damage can result from regular intake of foods high in fructose.

Fortunately, they also found enough evidence to support that omega-3, also known as docosahexanoic acid (DHA) can reverse the genetic changes caused by fructose. DHA is present in the brain cell membranes but the amount is not enough to help counter the aforementioned diseases. It must be supplemented through the diet.

Xia Yang, senior author and UCLA assistant professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology, said it is a remarkable discovery that DHA can convert an entire gene pattern to normal.

Fernando Gomez-Pinilia from the UCLA's Brain Injury Research Center said that DHA functions by reinforcing the brain synapses and enhancing memory and learning, and can be obtained from a variety of food items, including wild salmon and fruit and vegetables.

The American diet is riddled with fructose. In 2014, the Department of Agriculture estimated that Americans have an average fructose consumption of 27 pounds of corn syrup with high-fructose. The sweetener is also found in many baby food items.

As a result of rising illnesses associated with sugar, some companies are forced to implement measures to help curb consumption. Mars Food is mulling a label reminder of how often its products, which are high in sugar content, should be eaten.

In a mice study, the researchers tested the effects of fructose and DHA. Divided in three groups, the rats were given an assortment of diet. One group had only fructose water, which amounts to a liter of soda per day in humans. The second group had fructose water and were given a DHA-rich diet, while the last group only had water and served as the control group.

Baseline maze navigation was done prior to the ingestion of fructose. Six weeks later, the experiment showed that rats given only fructose water were slower in maze navigation compared to those who only had water, which means that fructose diet significantly affected the memory of the rats.

On the other hand, rats given with fructose and DHA have similar results to the control group, indicating that the presence of DHA reversed the harmful effects of fructose. Blood tests were also done and revealed that rats with fructose diet had higher levels of blood glucose, insulin, and triglycerides compared to the two other groups.

Sequencing of 20,000 genes in the rat brain also showed as much as 700 hypothalamic and 200 hippocampal genes were altered by fructose. These areas are significant in humans as they regulate inflammation, cell communication, and metabolism. Genetic alterations can cause depression, Parkinson's disease, depression, and other brain diseases.

Among the hundreds of genetic alterations, the researchers noted that the first to be affected are Bgn and Fmod.

"Once those genes are altered, they can set off a cascade effect that eventually alters hundreds of others," said Yang, as cited by UCLA Newsroom's Stuart Wolpert. "That could mean that Bgn and Fmod would be potential targets for new drugs to treat diseases that are caused by altered genes in the brain."

Researchers recommend reduction of fructose consumption and advise that DHA is not a magic pill to cure diseases. Further studies on the extent of genetic protection to human should be carried out.

The study was published in EBioMedicine.

Photo: Sean MacEntee | Flickr

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