New American research has found that fructose consumption could alter and potentially damage hundreds of genes in the brain. These genetic modifications could be linked to medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A team of scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studied the effect of fructose on the brain. This commonly consumed sugar is found in sweetened drinks, syrups, honey, juices and industrially made desserts. Synthetic glucose-fructose syrup, made from corn starch, is also added to a host of industrially made products for large retailers. Fructose occurs naturally in fruit but the accompanying fiber slows down sugar absorption considerably.
The researchers analyzed the impact of fructose on rats who had been taught to escape from a maze. The rats were randomly split into three groups. Over a six-week period, one group was given water with a concentration of fructose equivalent to around one liter of soda per day in humans. The second group was given fructose water accompanied by a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The third group was given plain water and an omega-3-rich diet.
At the end of the six weeks, the rats were sent back into the maze. The group given fructose water and no omega-3 took twice as long to get out of the maze than those given water only. This suggests that fructose may have impaired their memory. The rats given fructose water and a diet high in omega-3 showed results similar to those given water only. The researchers therefore suggest that omega-3 could counteract the negative effects of fructose.
What’s more, the higher blood glucose levels, triglycerides and insulin levels found in the first group of rats are linked to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes in humans.
Among the 20,000 genes studied in the rats, fructose altered more than 700 in the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that controls metabolism — and over 200 in the hippocampus — which helps regulate learning and memory. The 900 genes identified as altered in the rats are comparable to genes also existing in humans, and which are known to regulate metabolism, cell communication and inflammation. Conditions linked to modifications in these particular genes include Parkinson’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder and other brain diseases.
The study found that two genes were particularly affected by fructose — “Bgn” and “Fmod.” Once altered, these genes can set off a cascade effect causing hundreds of others to be modified. In the future, “Bgn” and “Fmod” could be promising targets for new drugs treating conditions linked to altered genes in the brain.
The scientists’ work also highlights the potentially beneficial action of omega-3 in countering the harmful effects of fructose. These essential fatty acids can strengthen synapses in the brain and improve learning and memory. Good sources of omega-3 include wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, fish oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, fruit and vegetables.
The study was published in the journal “eBioMedicine” and is available here: http://www.ebiomedicine.com/article/S2352-3964(16)30143-8/abstract