Exactly How Sugar Depletes Your Brain, According To New Study 

Contributing Health Writer By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Contributing Health Writer
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy

Ever feel tired, cranky, and lethargic after too much sugar? Sugar hangovers are a real thing. And now, a new study takes this concept to a whole new level; a group of researchers from the University of Michigan was able to show exactly how sugar depletes your brain.

The study, published in the most recent edition of Nature Communications, shows that when fruit flies are exposed to a high-sugar diet of sweet glucose jelly, key metabolites in their brains became depleted. The metabolites—called N-acetyl aspartate, or NAA, and kynurenine—are associated with a healthy brain, so it comes as no surprise to learn that lower levels of them can have negative health consequences.

For example, low levels of kynurenine—one of the metabolites that's also produced at high levels during exercise—has been linked to depression. The researchers were also able to show that altering the levels of these metabolites made the fruit flies eat more by changing how quickly they felt satiated, which was bad news for their little fruit fly waistlines.

"What we found was a metabolic remodeling," explained Monica Dus, senior author on the study. "It wasn't just a gradual accumulation from an early to a longer exposure, but by the seventh day on a high sugar diet, these fruit flies had a completely different metabolic profile," she said.

To conduct this study, an associate professor named Alla Karnovsky at Michigan Medicine developed a tool called FlyScape, which allowed the team to look for patterns in the metabolic data. "You can view the metabolites and genes that are changing between different conditions. This helps us understand what biological processes are happening," said Karnovsky. According to the research, the metabolic changes that occurred in the brain are similar to the ones cancer cells go through to fuel their own growth.

In total, the authors found about 20 metabolites that were affected by the high-sugar diet. Next, the team plans to figure out how these metabolites affect sleep, learning, and memory as well as food intake. For now, this study is one more reason to be mindful of our intake of processed sugars, added sugar, and the hidden sources of sugar in common foods. If you're having trouble taming your sweet tooth, check out these tricks to quit sugar.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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