RSSSugar damages developing brains

Posted on Tue, 2 Dec 14

Sugar damages developing brains

An experimental study has revealed that high fructose corn syrup can increase inflammation in the brain and negatively impact cognitive function and memory in adolescence.

Intake of refined sugars has increased dramatically in the last few decades, with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose (table sugar) the two most common. Human and animal studies have suggested that sugar can adversely effect mental health and cognitive function, but the relationship is still not entrielry clear.

Sucrose and HFCS differ in two ways; 1) the ratio of fructose to glucose, with 50:50 for sucrose and 55:42 for HFCS, and 2) fructose and glucose are “free” sugars in HFCS but are “bound” in sucrose. These difference has led to the suggestion they have different health effects.

So to see if sucrose or HFCS adversely effect brain health in different ways. Researchers conducted an experiment where rats were fed diets high in either sucrose or HFCS (11% sugar in their water vs. plain water) then assessed brain health and cognitive function. 

It was discovered that added sugars had adverse effects with evidence of increased expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin 6, interleukin 1β) in the hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning, memory and cognition. The sugars also impaired hippocampal-dependent learning and memory.

These effects were stronger for HFCS than sucrose and more pronounced in adolescence, but not adulthood, suggesting particular susceptibility to the adverse effects of sugar on developing brains.

Commenting on their findings the researchers noted “Overall these data have important implications regarding the impact of consuming added sugars in excess during critical periods of development, and highlight the fact that both cognitive and metabolic disruptions can arise from adolescent consumption of HFCS and sucrose.”


Hsu TM, Konanur VR, Taing L, et al. Effects  of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup consumption on spatial memory function and hippocampal neuroinflammation in adolescent rats. Hippocampus. 2014 Sep 20. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22368. [Epub ahead of print] - link to free full-text

Tags: Sugar, Brain, Fructose, Hippocampus

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