Your sweet tooth make be affecting more than just your diet. Sugar can actually change your brain—and not in a healthy way. New research shows that certain foods, especially ones high in sugar and glucose, can damage brain health. Your memory, your neurotransmitters, and overall brain structure can be permanently changed with too much of the sweet stuff.
A study published in Neurology shows that eating a lot of sugar or other carbohydrates can be hazardous to both brain structure and function. This means long-term damage to you brain. Researchers at the Charité University Medical Center in Berlin evaluated both short- and long-term glucose markers in 141 healthy, nondiabetic older adults. The participants performed a memory test and underwent imaging to assess the structure of their hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory.
Higher levels on both glucose measures were associated with worse memory, as well as a smaller hippocampus and compromised hippocampal structure—literally making your brain smaller! The researchers also found that the structural changes partially accounted for the statistical link between glucose and memory. Too much sugar in the blood can slow down your brain. The insulin is supposed to break down sugar to help process thoughts and emotions but becomes inflamed, which can lead to foggy thinking and memory impairments. Our Clinical Director Champane Frias says “Diets high in sugar reduce BDNF, which is a brain chemical that plays an important role in memory tasks in the brain.”
So what do you do when all you can think about is the ice cream in the freezer, cookies in the vending machine, or those crunchy chips on your coworker’s desk? If your cravings are hard to manage, check your brain chemistry. Research shows that when there is an imbalance, especially serotonin and dopamine, we crave sugar and carbohydrates; so much so that can sometimes feel like an addiction. Balancing the brain chemistry can help reduce cravings and improve memory.
Good Fat Can Help Reverse Sugar Damage
There is hope for sugar lovers: not all that damage is irreversible. A study published in the Journal of Physiology shows that a diet in good fats can help reverse the damage. Fructose slows down the brain and memory function and alters the brain’s ability to learn and remember information. The UCLA is the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning; but that omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption. That’s right! Good fats can, along with diet changes, heal your brain. Subjects in the study received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects against damage to the synapses — the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.
“DHA is essential for synaptic function — brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to one another,” Gomez-Pinilla, one of the authors of the study said. “This is the mechanism that makes learning and memory possible. Our bodies can’t produce enough DHA, so it must be supplemented through our diet.”
Tips to Take The Edge Off Sugar Cravings
Slow down the sugar rush. Snack on some protein before you give into your urge. Add protein to a carbohydrate-filled snack (milk with cookies, hummus with chips, ect).
Get more fat. Check with your practitioner to find the best fish oil or fatty acid supplementation.
Drink more water. Stay hydrated with water and make sure you are detoxifying your body.
Don’t overdo it on the fruit. Eat fruit with other foods, such as yogurt, cheese, or healthy protein. It slows the sugar absorption.
Avoid drinks that contain sugar. Ice tea, soda, sugary coffee beverages, even sports drinks contain added sugar that can affect your brain. They also trigger cravings for more of the sweet stuff.
Reduce your caffeine consumption. Many of us rely on this stimulant to get us through the day. Whether we have one cup or three cups of coffee a day, it alters our brain chemistry, especially dopamine. When we drink caffeine, the body absorbs it quickly and passes it to the brain. Many people drink caffeine in order to combat symptoms of depression, improve focus and memory, or because they like the stimulating effect.
So stop making yourself stupid and start feeling happy and healthy.
Take Good Care,
Emily Roberts MA, LPC, Neurogistics Practitioner
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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