Beyond improving how you feel today and helping you avoid diseases in the future, eating well can also make you smarter. What’s not to like about that?
In last week’s edition of the Journal of Physiology a group of UCLA researchers published results a study on the effects of high-fructose corn syrup and Omega-3 fatty acids on the cognitive performance of rats. From the study, the scientists concluded that a diet high in sugar, in as little as six weeks, could cause a significant decline in learning abilities and memory.
Perhaps it was the sugar to blame when the sugar addict Homer Simpson, who after convincing himself that we was actually smart, began singing, “I am so smart. S – M – R – T.”
The setup of this study is what I found really interesting. Prior to the study, the rats were fed a standard diet and trained to complete complex mazes twice a day for five days. Then the rats were divided into two groups. In addition to their standard rat feed, both groups’ water supply was a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup. Then one group was given Omega 3’s (flaxseed oil and a DHA) every day. After six weeks the rats were put through the same maze.
The rats that received the daily dose of Omega 3’s navigated the maze much faster than the rats that ate the same diet, but were deprived of Omega 3’s. This shows both that a high-sugar diet can reek havoc on the brain, and at the same time shows the importance of consuming an adequate supply of Omega 3’s every day.
After the maze portion of the study, the scientists examined the rats’ brains as well. One member of the research team, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at UCLA, said “The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”
What’s more, the group that was deprived of Omega 3 fatty acids showed signs of resistance to insulin. Since insulin controls blood sugar and regulates synaptic function in the brain, this can interfere with learning and cause memory loss. So what we see in this study is that a diet high in processed sugars can mess up insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions.
Gomez-Pinilla also said, “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think. Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. [The results] suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects. It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases. …Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”
So the two big takeaways from this study are that processed sugar should always be avoided and that the importance of consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids can’t be overemphasized.
Don’t assume since this study focused on high fructose corn syrup that white sugar is off the hook. As we talked about last week, there’s no form of sugar, natural or alternative, that can be labeled “healthy.” But of course when a sweetener is called for, it is always best to choose an unprocessed, natural form.
Since few of us are going to avoid all forms of sugar completely, this makes getting an adequate supply of Omega 3’s even more beneficial. In previous articles we’ve discussed many other benefits of these critical fats, but knowing they can actually shield the brain from the negative effects of sugar is incredible.
Foods that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, walnuts, sardines, tuna, tofu and soybeans. Because they’re so important and it can be difficult to get the recommended dosage, Omega 3 fish oil supplements are one of the few supplements that functional medicine doctors like Dr. Hyman suggest everyone should take. And we’re never shy about recommending the fish oil from Vital Choice because of their incredibly high quality standards and the fact that each capsule has such a high level of EPA and DHA fats – the only reason to take a fish oil supplement.
So there you have it. Eat your way to smart, not dum.