This Is Your Brain On Sugar

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

November 09, 2012

  • The real reason you might want to cut back on sugar
  • The solution to sugar overload
  • How to handle your sweet tooth without compromising your I.Q.

Remember that anti-drug ad on TV from years ago? The one where they dropped an egg into the pan and said: “This is your brain.” And then, as you watched it fry, you heard: “This is your brain on drugs.”

I wonder if it would be as compelling if we were to replace the word drugs with sugar

I’ve written you recently about avoiding corn products, specifically high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And I know from my own personal supermarket adventures, how difficult that advice is to follow.

Between the prevalence of HFCS, and the epidemic of metabolic disorders stemming from blood sugar imbalances and insulin resistance – there is no denying that sugar is profoundly impacting our health.

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But today – with November being November is American Diabetes Month here in the U.S., I want to share some additional compelling evidence that might sway you to strengthen your resolve. And also, I want you to be armed with an important way to protect your brain from the negative effects of sugar when you can’t avoid it.

Through the diabetes epidemic, the dangers of sugar have become clear. But you may not realize the effect it has on the brain.

Of course, the brain, like the rest of the body, needs sugar – or glucose – for energy. But when you exceed the optimal amount for proper functioning, your brain can become dysfunctional.

When you look at some of the complications of diabetes on mental function, you can see the pattern in the extreme:

  • dwindling mental capabilities
  • higher risk of depression
  • diminished memory
  • difficulty processing information and recognizing spatial patterns
  • higher rates of dementia
  • higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease

Whether these symptoms are from the sugar itself, or from the overproduction of insulin in reaction to too much sugar, isn’t exactly clear. And perhaps, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the bottom line: your brain, on sugar, suffers.

We do know, however, that different sugars have different effects on the brain. In fact, one study showed that glucose raised the level of neural activity for 20 minutes after consumption, while fructose reduced neural activity over the same amount of time. And also, while fruit contains fructose, it also contains fiber, so it is absorbed differently than the fructose in HFCS. So it doesn’t have the same sugar rush-to-crash effect on the body – which spares the brain.

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Of course, limiting your sugar intake – specifically HFCS and other processed sugars – is an important step. But there is also a way to counteract some of the negative effects of sugar on your brain.

A study released earlier this year showed that omega-3 fatty acids provide a counter-balance to the effects of sugar on the brain. In it, the rats whose diets were supplemented with omega-3s had lower triglycerides, lower glucose and insulin levels. They even found that the addition of omega-3s reversed insulin resistance in this study.

Looking at the findings strictly through the lens of brain activity, with omega-3 supplementation, there was no decline in learning and memory. Even with the sugary diet in place.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that you should keep up a diet high in HFCS and simply supplement. But I am suggesting that even a careful diet today can be much higher in processed sugars and HFCS than the diet of our ancestors. And also, most of us are not getting enough omega-3 without supplementing. So most of us need to be proactive when it comes to protecting our brain.

Seeing the brain-protective dynamic between sugar and omega-3s is compelling.

And promising. If you don’t already, I recommend you begin supplements of omega-3s with either fish oil or flaxseed. But even better would be supplements of fish oils, flaxseed, evening primrose and perhaps some borage and sunflowers oils. We need them all… in balance.

A 4:1 ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s is a good start. If for some reason you are grossly deficient in omega 3’s (look at your skin over your triceps muscle – if it’s showing or covered in tiny red bumps… you’re deficient) then you should supplement with more fish oils to the nature of an extra 1,000 or 2,000 mgm daily.

I recently heard one of CNN’s medical experts say on a morning telecast “you can’t overdose on fish oil”. But that’s not true. One of the side effects is an awful dermatitic rash and sloughing off of skin when that happens. So don’t overdo it.
And as far as diet, if you follow my Modified Mediterranean Diet, you will have to worry far less about the possibility of sugar affecting your brain. Remember, my modifications include:

  • No Wheat – which is very high on the glycemic index and can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes
  • No Corn – which is, obviously, the source of HFCS

Plus, it is naturally high in fresh vegetables and healthy meats and fish – and keeps you on the outer ring of the supermarket, far from the heavily-processed center aisles.

Just this diet alone, plus supplementation of omega-3s can go a very long way in protecting your brain function as you get older.

Remember when getting older meant getting wiser?

Me, too. And I’d like to see us return to those days. But it means making changes that protect your brain, today.