Eating too much sugar may give you a brain drain, new research suggests. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, high blood sugar levels are associated with brain shrinkage. This evidence underscores the saying "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing."
Nicolas Cherbuin, a researcher from the Australian National University, led a team which investigated association between blood sugar levels and atrophy of certain brain centers. To this end, they selected 266 nondiabetic and cognitively healthy men and women (60-64 years of age) wherein researchers analyzed participants' fasting plasma glucose levels and temporal lobe sizes.
Cherbuin's team performed brain scans of the participants at beginning of the study and again 4 years later, as well as measuring blood glucose levels. This was to prove useful for what the team was soon to learn about sugar on the health of the human brain.
What Cherbuin and his team discovered was that plasma glucose levels on the high end of the normal range (greater than 6.1 millimoles per liter) was associated with loss of volume of the amygdala and hippocampus. This occurred even when the researchers accounted for gender, age, high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol consumption.
This is an interesting discovery. Scientists have already established an association between high blood sugar and decreased brain size in type 2 diabetics.
For example, Nasi Khan from the Rawalpindi Medical College in Pakistan and colleagues conducted MRI scans on 100 people with type 2 diabetes and found that 45 of the participants suffered cerebral atrophy. Those researchers offered several hypotheses ranging from mini strokes, to poor control of glucose (and subsequent loss of brain function) to inflammation.
To me the latter seems plausible as a means of explaining the loss of hippocampus and amygdala brain size witnessed in Cherbuin's experiment on people just on the high end of normal blood sugar.
When a person consumes a lot of sugar it leads to an insulin spike. Prolonged exposure to sugar (hyperglycemia) can lead to activation of inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation can seriously damage cellular function.
Based on the results of their experiment, Cherbuin's team wrote: "[T]his finding may contribute to a reevaluation of the concept of normal blood glucose levels and the definition of diabetes."
Thus, Cherbuin's study on older adults serves as a warning: if your blood sugar is high, you risk losing brain function. The hippocampus and amygdala are necessary for memory and emotion. As people age, they often experience cognitive decline, but consuming large amounts of sugar doesn't help matters at all.
If there's any take home message, it would be this: don't over do it. Too much of a good thing is definitely bad.
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Cherbuin N, Sachdev P, & Anstey KJ (2012). Higher normal fasting plasma glucose is associated with hippocampal atrophy: The PATH Study. Neurology, 79 (10), 1019-26 PMID: 22946113
Khan G, Khan N, & Aziz A (2010). Detection of cerebral atrophy in type-II diabetes mellitus by magnetic resonance imaging of brain. Journal of Ayub Medical College, Abbottabad : JAMC, 22 (2), 67-70 PMID: 21702270
Shoelson SE, Lee J, & Goldfine B (2006). Inflammation and insulin. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 116(7), 1793-1801. DOI 10.1172/JCI29069
"Too Much Sugar May Shrink Your Brain" copyright © 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.