HomeBlog The Bittersweet Truth: Unraveling the Impact of Sugar on the Brain

The Bittersweet Truth: Unraveling the Impact of Sugar on the Brain

June 26, 2023

Our Alzheimer's Awareness Month newsletter series is focused on raising awareness and promoting brain health. The series will consist of four articles, which will be released once a week throughout the month of June. Each article will cover different aspects of brain health and Alzheimer's disease, offering helpful tips and information to encourage readers to prioritize their brain health.

Glucose is a type of sugar that is the primary energy source for the human body, including the brain. The brain is comprised of nerve cells, a very energy-demanding cell type; thus, the brain uses most of the sugar energy in the body. The majority of the brain’s functions, such as thinking, memory, and learning, have been linked to changes in glucose levels.
When the glucose levels in the body are insufficient, there is a lack of production of the brain’s chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The lack of neurotransmitters will impair communication between the nerve cells in the brain. In the case of hypoglycemia (a complication of diabetes resulting in low blood sugar), the loss of energy to the brain leads to poor attention and cognitive function, dizziness, and in severe cases, can lead to passing out.
Contrastingly, compared to the short-term effects of low blood sugar, a diet too high in sugar consumption can lead to long-term cognitive decline. Due to the high palatability and rewarding taste of sugar in food, overconsumption can present a significant problem.
  • Research in animal models has shown that a high-sugar diet leads to impaired memory during and up to one month after stopping consumption. Additionally, the consumption of a high-sucrose solution was shown to reduce neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to reorganize nerve cell connections after learning).
  • A high-sugar and high-carbohydrates diet also negatively affects the brain via the gut-brain axis. A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates can disrupt the gut microbiota (bacteria lining the gut), leading to changes in neurotransmitter metabolism, synaptic transmission, and plasticity, endogenous hormone levels, reduction in size and turnover of neurons, and inflammation.
  • In patients with diabetes, the complication of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can damage blood vessels leading to the brain and cause lack of blood flow. When the brain does not receive enough blood, nerve cells can die, leading to brain atrophy (reduction in brain size). This impairs memory and thinking, and if not corrected, will lead to vascular dementia.
Moderate sugar consumption will help the brain function optimally for as long as possible. Moderate blood sugar levels will avoid the short-term effects of low blood sugar, such as decreased neurotransmitters, and the long-term effects of high blood sugar, such as brain atrophy. Monitoring intake of high sugar and carbohydrate foods - since cabs turn to sugar and are two of the main reasons for diabetes type 2 - and blood sugar (in patients with diabetes) are key strategies to implement for ideal brain function.
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  • Lowers cholesterol and improve carbohydrate metabolism
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