Why Sugar Is Bad For Your Brain

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The brain consumes more energy than any other organ in the body, and glucose serves as its principal fuel supply. What happens, however, when the brain is exposed to an excessive amount of sweets, as in the typical American diet? More is not always better in this scenario.

Excess sugar in the brain weakens both our cognitive abilities and our self-control. For many people, a small amount of sugar triggers a need for more. Sugar has a drug-like effect on the brain’s reward region. Sweet foods and salty and fatty foods are thought to have addiction-like effects on the human brain, leading to a loss of self-control, overeating, and weight gain.

This stimulation led early humans to seek calorie-dense meals, which helped them survive when food was limited. However, this primordial desire today adds to our obesity and diabetes epidemics. Substance abuse and overeating share many behavioral and neurobiochemical similarities, and the concept of food addiction is gaining traction among experts.

Sugar’s Reaction to Reward
When compared to low-glycemic diets, high-glycemic foods have been proven to activate reward-related brain regions and cause more severe hunger feelings in humans. Foods that generate a rise in blood glucose levels increase the brain’s desire to be addicted.

The glycemic index (GI)—a measure of how quickly various foods convert to sugar in the body—was used to examine this process, and researchers discovered that eating a high-GI meal increased brain activity in areas involved in eating behavior reward yearning.


Sugar Dependence
Additional research on brain activity has backed up the theory that overeating affects our brain’s reward system, motivating us to eat more.
This same process is assumed to be at the root of addiction tolerance.

Is Sugar Addictive in the Truest Sense?

To achieve the same level of reward, more of the chemical is necessary over time. Overeating, according to studies, causes a reduced reward response and an increasing addiction to low-nutrient meals high in sugar, salt, and fat.

Sweet foods can be more addictive than cocaine, according to a study published in PLoS One.


Although the study was conducted on animals, the researchers discovered that excessive sweetness could outperform cocaine reward in drug-sensitized and dependent people.

Sugar’s Effect on Memory
Excess sugar is detrimental throughout the body. Even a single incidence of high blood glucose levels in the brain can impair the brain, resulting in delayed cognitive performance and memory and attention deficiencies.

According to several studies, excessive sugar consumption induces inflammation in the brain, contributing to memory problems. Inflammatory indicators were discovered in the hippocampus of rats on a high sugar diet, but not in those fed a standard diet, according to a 2016 study published in Behavioral Brain Research. 4

The good news is that this sugar-induced inflammatory damage may not be permanent.

A 2017 study published in the journal Appetite discovered that a low-sugar, low-GI diet could repair the memory loss induced by sugar consumption.


Furthermore, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Nutrients, limiting sugar consumption and supplementing omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin enhances working memory.


Sugar Has an Impact on Your Mood
Sugar affects one’s mood as well. According to a brain imaging study, increased blood glucose impairs the ability of healthy young people to interpret emotion.

During acute hyperglycemia, persons with type 2 diabetes reported greater feelings of melancholy and worry, according to another study published in Diabetes Care (elevated blood sugar).


Higher sugar consumption was linked to a higher prevalence of depression in one of the largest studies linking sugar and depression, the Whitehall II research, which looked at dietary consumption and mood of 23,245 people.


The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2017, found that people who consumed the most sugar were 23 percent more likely to be diagnosed with a mental condition than those who consumed the least sugar.

Sugar Consumption Reduces Mental Capacity
Blood arteries are harmed by high blood glucose levels. The most common cause of vascular complications in diabetes is blood vessel damage, leading to additional issues such as damage to blood vessels in the brain and eyes, resulting in retinopathy.

According to studies, long-term diabetics have brain damage that leads to deficiencies in learning, memory, motor speed, and other cognitive skills.


Higher HbA1c levels have been linked to a greater degree of brain shrinkage, so frequent exposure to high glucose levels reduces mental function.

Even in people who do not have diabetes, higher sugar consumption is linked to worse scores on cognitive function tests. Hyperglycemia, hypertension, insulin resistance, and increased cholesterol are thought to cause these side effects.

According to new research, a high-sugar diet lowers the generation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical important for memory formation and learning.


According to a study published in the journal Diabetologia,11 lower levels of BDNF are connected to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Verywell’s Message
According to a study, any sugar added to our food is harmful. We can prevent these risks by eating fresh fruit instead of refined sweeteners to fulfill our sweet desire.

Fresh fruit gives the delightful sweetness of sugary delights with the added benefit of fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which help control sugar levels in the bloodstream and inhibit their bad effects.

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