Forget “Chemo Brain”—What About Sugar Brain?
Many women who have undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer or other forms of cancer have experienced an undesirable side effect: “chemo brain.” Chemo brain is described as foggy thinking that occurs during or after chemotherapy. This mental cloudiness may involve difficulty remembering things, trouble concentrating, trouble accessing common words, and difficulty multi-tasking. Doctors are unsure why it occurs, but it’s a fairly well-documented phenomenon. Fortunately, it usually subsides once treatment has been completed.
But new research suggests that a similar phenomenon may occur in the brains of teenagers. It’s not chemotherapy that causes this mental distress, however. It’s sugar.
At least that’s the implication of research reported recently by investigators at the University of Southern California. What they discovered is alarming. When juvenile rats were fed sugar, their brains became inflamed, and the rodents suffered memory problems. They were also prone to prediabetes; a condition that often precedes full-blown type 2 diabetes in humans and rats alike.
“The brain is especially vulnerable to dietary influences during critical periods of development, like adolescence,”said researcher Scott Kanoski.“Consuming a diet high in added sugars not only can lead to weight gain and metabolic disturbances, but can also negatively impact our neural functioning and cognitive ability.”
The rats in the study received 35-40 percent of their daily calories in the form of sugar or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Tellingly, the rats that feasted on HFCS, especially, struggled to complete tasks designed to test their spatial memory. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, American teens routinely consume about 17 percent of daily calories as added sugars, mostly in the form of sweetened soft drinks.
Ted M. Hsu, Vaibhav R. Konanur, Lilly Taing, Ryan Usui, Brandon D. Kayser, Michael I. Goran, Scott E. Kanoski. Effects of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup consumption on spatial memory function and hippocampal neuroinflammation in adolescent rats. Hippocampus, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/hipo.22368