This Is Your Brain On Sugar: A Neuroscientist Explains

Did you quit sugar yet?

We’re told we should, but it’s hard to do! This is because when our taste buds detect sugar (fructose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, etc.) on our tongue, the ‘sweet signal’ is processed by our brain’s reward system — the same reward system activated by sex, drugs and alcohol!

Sugar is one of the few foods that activates the brain’s reward system, and is one of the reasons we get hooked and find it so hard to give up.

I try to limit refined, processed junk, and follow a Mediterranean diet, but I’m quite partial to a piece of chocolate with my afternoon post-nap coffee!

Besides having addictive effects on the brain, are there any other reasons we should give up sugar?

Yes, as it turns out. Paying attention to regulating our blood glucose levels and reducing risk of developing type 2 diabetes is a wise move because diabetes is linked to poor brain health.

Neuroscientists have found that having diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, is a risk factor for dementia.

If you have diabetes you have a:

  • ·47% increased risk of any dementia

    ·39% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

    ·138% increased risk of vascular dementia.

If you’re still young, or don’t have diabetes, you might put concerns about dementia low on your list of health concerns. But having higher than normal levels of blood glucose (even if you DON’T have diabetes) puts you at greater risk for general cognitive decline.

Or put more simply—consume too much sugar too often and your capacity to think, plan and remember will be dulled.

A report published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine had some scary statistics. Researchers followed 2000 people over the age of 65 for five years in the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study.

The finding was crystal clear: even for people WITHOUT diabetes, high blood sugar levels were associated with an increased risk for developing dementia.

Associate Professor Paul Crane, one of the authors from the University Washington School of Medicine, said:

“What we found was that people with higher levels of glucose had a higher risk of dementia, on average, than did people with lower levels of glucose… There was no threshold value for lower glucose values where risk leveled off.”

Scientists are still unraveling the exact molecular and neural pathways and mechanisms that link diabetes and poor brain health. But it’s most likely a combination of the effects of insulin resistance, vascular pathology, oxidative stress, glucocorticoid (stress hormone) excess and inflammation.

It’s not all bad news though.

Professor Crane and his research team have previously found that exercise lowers the risk of developing dementia.

Simple and possibly also addictive (in a good way), exercise is one of the best ways to regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes, protecting that brain of yours, keeping it sharp, engaged and well.

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