A diet rich in processed sugar may affect the brain, impairing memory and learning, according to study conducted on rats by researchers at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Published in Journal of Physiology, the report also stated that the food high in omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseeds, salmon and walnuts could counteract the loss.
According to researchers, the new study is the first to expose the influences of the sweetener on the brain, while previous studies only revealed the harmful affects of fructose through its role in diabetes, obesity and fatty liver.
The study included two groups of rats - one group consumed fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks, while the second group also consumed omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
DHA is believed to be essential for synaptic function - the ability of brain cells that enable memory and learning to transmit signals to one another.
Before beginning the experiment diet, the rats were fed standard rat chow and trained on a maze twice daily for five days, where the scientists placed visual landmarks to help the animals learn and memorise the way.
Following a six-week study, the researchers observed that the second group of rats navigated the maze comparatively faster than the rats that did not consume omega-3 fatty acids.
The study researcher Fernando Gomez-Pinilla said that the DHA-deprived animals also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates synapses, and the insulin's power to influence the brain cells was also lost.
"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla added.
The researchers believe that fructose is the key reason behind the brain dysfunction of DHA-deficient rats.
Sources of fructose in the Western diet include cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, a liquid sweetener.
The new UCLA study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Image: The new study is the first to uncover the influences of sugar on the brain. Photo: JadeGordon.