The brain freeze from that hot fudge sundae might last longer than you think.
A new UCLA study on rats is the first to show how a diet high in processed sugar slows the brain, hampering memory and learning.
“Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” study author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said. “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information.”
Fortunately, the study also found that the omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds can counteract the disruption, he said.
The UCLA team focused its study on high-fructose corn syrup — the inexpensive liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar that’s commonly added to soft drinks, condiments and a host of processed treats.
“We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” Gomez-Pinilla said.
The researchers studied two groups of rats that each consumed a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids.
The animals were fed standard rat chow and trained on a maze twice daily for five days before starting the experimental diet.
After six weeks on the fructose fluid, the researchers tested the rats’ ability to recall the route and escape the maze.
The rats that received the omega-3 fatty acids navigated the maze much faster than their counterparts, the researchers said.
“The (omega-3 deprived) animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” Gomez-Pinilla said. “Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”
The peer-reviewed Journal of Physiology published the study results in its May 15 edition.
“Our findings suggest that consuming (omega-3 fatty acids) regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects,” Gomez-Pinilla said. “It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases.”
By Nancy Dillon / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS