We all know corn syrup can make you fat, but dumb too? According to a UCLA study published in the May 15 issue of the Journal of Physiology, regular intake of high fructose, such as that found in corn syrup, can negatively impact memory and learning ability -- in as little as six weeks.
Researchers tested the ability of maze-trained rats to find their way to the finish after having been dosed with corn syrup for six weeks. The rats moved slower and their brains showed a "decline in synaptic activity," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery, integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, in a press release.
The rats also showed a resistance to insulin, which "appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said. "Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new." He hypothesizes that eating too much fructose could block insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions.
High-fructose corn syrup is widely added to processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food. The researchers found, however, that omega-3 supplements somewhat mitigated the effects of the fructose.
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"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," Gomez-Pinilla said. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage."
The doc recommends eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, or taking a daily 1-gram DHA capsule. If you want something sweet, he suggests fresh berries and Greek yogurt or some dark chocolate. (Ho hum.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consume about 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup each annually in snacks, sweets, soft drinks and meals -- in addition to nearly 47 pounds of cane sugar.
Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.