Sugar: Fattening and harmful to the brain?

Sugar, as we’ve long been told by our mothers and doctors, rots your teeth, causes acne and leads to obesity and diabetes. But does it actually make you stupid? That’s the new, and not very surprising, development to come out of UCLA’s School of Medicine earlier this month.

A new study in rats showed that a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, which hampers memory and learning. What’s more, researchers also found that omega-3 fatty acids can counteract this disruption.

This analysis is remarkable because it proves for the first time a link between what you eat and how you think (or don’t, as it turns out). Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, the study author, emphasized he is less concerned with naturally occurring fructose, found in fruits, than he is with the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is artificially manufactured and added to foods as a sweetener and preservative.

As I’ve pointed out here before, a diet full of high-fructose corn syrup can lead to insulin resistance. In addition to controlling blood sugar, insulin also regulates synaptic function in the brain. If the brain tissue becomes resistant to insulin, as it did for the rats in the UCLA study, the ability to think clearly and to process thoughts and emotions may be affected as well -- and not for the better.

How can we remedy this problem? Sure, the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds, and supplements might offset some of the negative effects of sugar on the brain, but the real solution is eliminating high-fructose corn syrup, not only from our individual diets, but from our food supply in general.

This is a tall order. The Corn Refiners Association is intent on convincing the general public that high-fructose corn syrup is good for you and doesn’t cause any awful consequences.  A few years ago, they even set up a booth at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics Conference, where they extolled the virtues of high-fructose corn syrup to a group of doctors. Not only should medical professionals know better, but such outrageous dogma has no place at an event dedicated to children’s health.

The Corn Refiners Association is so desperate for an image overhaul that in 2010 they petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to officially change the name “high-fructose corn syrup” to simply “corn sugar.”

Unhappy with this misleading nomenclature, even sugar producers want nothing to do with high-fructose corn syrup: they filed a suit claiming that the Corn Refiners Association used false advertising when it aired commercials stating, “your body can’t tell the difference” between actual sugar and the fake stuff.

Whatever you call it, here’s what we know about the fructose found in high-fructose corn syrup, and about eating too much of any kind of sugar: it can lead to obesity, diabetes, and all the health complications associated with those two conditions, like heart disease. Eating too many processed foods, most of which contain unnatural sugars, can cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation begets all types of cancers, not to mention depression, arthritis, intestinal malfunction, and much more.  And now, as the UCLA study showed, it decreases brain activity in rats. I’d call it the “icing on the cake,” but that just seems superfluous.

The only surefire ways to limit or remove high-fructose corn syrup from your diet is to eat primarily plant-based, organic, whole foods filled with the nutrients and vitamins that make us feel good—mentally, physically, emotionally. Now if only the food producers in this country would get on board.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health,, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™ at Hackensack  University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at 'Like' her Face book page here.