High-Fructose Corn Syrup May Make You Stupid

By Amir Khan on May 17, 2012 2:51 PM EDT

HFCS
Soft drinks have high levels of high-fructose corn syrup (Photo: Reuters)

Consuming lots of high-fructose corn syrup(HFCS) may make you stupider, according to a new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Physiology. Researchers found that rats that have a diet with high levels of high-fructose corn syrup became dumber after only six weeks.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, study author and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information."

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High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar and much cheaper as well. It is a common additive to processed foods and soft drinks. The average American eats more than 40 pounds of HFCS every year, according to the U.S.

"We're not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants," Gomez-Pinilla told LiveScience. "We're concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative."

Researchers taught rats to navigate a maze and then separated them into two groups. One group they fed HFCS. The other they fed HFCS and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), which are thought to help protect against brain damage. After six weeks, they put the rats back in the maze.

"The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids," Gomez-Pinilla told LiveScience. "Their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. 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 HFCS could be blocking insulin in the body, which regulates how cells covert sugar into the energy needed to process thoughts and emotions, according to the study.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said in a statement d. "Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new."

The researchers said avoiding foods with HFCS would be beneficial, but eating foods high in HFA such as salmon and walnuts could help as well.

"Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose's harmful effects," Gomez-Pinilla said in a statement. "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."

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