May 26, 2024

Excess Sugar Consumption Linked to Brain Shrinkage and Cognitive Decline

Written by AiBot

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Jan 1, 2024

Consuming too much sugar has long been linked to conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But emerging research now shows it can also damage the brain, leading to shrinkage and impaired functioning.

New study finds overeating sugar may shrink the brain similar to Alzheimer’s

A recent study published in Scientific Reports has found the overconsumption of sugary foods for prolonged periods can physically shrink the brain and dampen cognition. Researchers discovered that people who frequently indulged in soda, fruit juices, desserts, and other high-sugar products had less grey matter in the brain’s orbital frontal cortex (OFC).

The OFC plays a pivotal role in decision making, behavioral control, and mood regulation. As this region degenerated over time from excessive sugar intake, people experienced rising rates of anxiety and depression. They also struggled more with regulating behavior, willpower, and making healthy food choices.

Food item Teaspoons of sugar
12 oz can of coke 9 tsp
Grande Starbucks Caramel Frappucino 30 tsp
1 cup apple juice 10 tsp
1 glazed donut 5 tsp

The research team found that beyond the benchmark of 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day, people suffered escalating harm to the brain. Consuming more than 50 grams brought on obvious atrophy of grey matter.

  • “We found that people who consumed more than about 50 grams had a smaller brain,” explained lead author Richard Stevenson. This amount would equate to around 12 teaspoons of sugar.

  • Over several years, consuming just one can of soda per day can cause the OFC to shrink to levels seen in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early Alzheimer’s.

Why the brain may shrink from too much sugar

The study authors theorize that excess sugar damages neurons through chronic spikes in glucose and insulin. Over many years, these surges act like inflammation – slowly eroding sensitive nerve cells.

This explanation aligns with prior research showing patients with metabolic disorders like diabetes and pre-diabetes tend to have smaller brains and perform worse on assessments of memory, focus, and information processing. Plus, their risk of eventually developing dementia rises substantially.

Therefore persistently elevated blood sugar and insulin may gradually starve the brain of oxygen and nutrients. They also increase oxidative damage from compounds like glycation end products (AGEs). Together, these effects could strangle and inflame delicate neurons.

Warning signs you may be eating too much sugar

Consuming added sugar – especially from sweetened beverages – has become the norm for many people. The following signs from dietitians indicate your sugary indulgences may be approaching dangerous levels:

  • You constantly battle intense food cravings and energy crashes

  • You often overeat carbs and struggle to feel full

  • You frequently experience rapid heartbeat, anxiety, irritability

  • You have trouble concentrating and remembering important information

  • Your visceral fat around the abdomen keeps increasing

[Table: Daily sugar recommendations]

Group Max added sugars
Adult men 36 grams (9 tsp)
Adult women 25 grams (6 tsp)
Children Avoid completely

If any of those symptoms feel familiar, take stock of hidden sugar across your normal diet. Remember that danger lies mainly in added sweeteners rather than natural fructose in whole foods like fruits.

Health experts warn governments must curb sugar intake to protect cognition

In response to the troubling research, public health groups are urging governments to introduce policies that combat excessive consumption:

  • Tax sweetened drinks: Placing a levy on soda and energy drinks makes them less affordable while also funding health campaigns. Studies show a 10-20% tax can cut sales by up to 50%.

  • Restrict marketing: Banning sugary food ads targeted towards kids could nurture healthier eating habits from a young age.

  • Clearer food labels: Implementing simple front-of-pack warnings and indicators would help consumers identify high-sugar products easily.

Without meaningful action, experts caution that obesity, diabetes, dementia and associated healthcare costs will continue to spiral out of control.

What happens when you ditch sugar for just 1-2 weeks?

Giving up added sugar for only a week or two allows remarkable self-healing and renewal throughout the body. Within just days, people can experience impressive gains in energy, mental clarity, sleep quality, mood, and self-control around food.

  • Days 1-2: Headaches, cravings, fatigue from withdrawal.

  • Day 3: Stabilizing blood sugar leads to fewer jitters/cravings.

  • Day 4: Skin looks plumper and less inflamed. Sleep quality often improves.

  • Day 5: Mental focus and acuity heighten. Able to resist tempting sugary foods more easily.

  • Day 6: Consistent energy and brightened mood from balanced blood sugar.

  • Day 7: Skin gains radiance and eyes appear whiter/brighter. Many notice positive body composition changes.

With higher energy, clearer thinking, glowing skin, and balanced weight, people feel highly motivated to stick with the sugar-free lifestyle. But experts emphasize that periodic indulgences in sweet treats are perfectly healthy – as long as you don’t overdo it.

What can you eat instead to tame sugar cravings?

Battling intense carb and sugar cravings causes distress and often leads to bingeing. Here are some tips:

  • Consume enough protein and healthy fats at meals to balance blood sugar. This reduces cravings and overeating.

  • Try chromium supplements. Some research indicates chromium regulates carbohydrate and sugar cravings by improving insulin sensitivity.

  • Never skip meals. Hunger intensifies cravings. Snack on nuts, Greek yogurt, fruits, or veggies between meals.

  • Choose naturally sweet fruits like berries, citrus, apples to satisfy a sweet tooth. Avoid juice with concentrated sugars.

[Table: Healthy alternatives to sugary foods]

Instead of… Choose…

Sugary cereal | Oatmeal with fruit
Candy or chocolate | Fresh berries or 70% dark chocolate
Soda/pop | Sparkling water with lemon
Fruit juice | Whole fruits like apple slices
Ice cream | Greek yogurt with nuts & fruit

The future: stem chronic disease through sugar moderation

Current sugar consumption trends paint a gloomy picture for public health. But with activism around improved food policy and education, there is hope that society can change course.

In the war against obesity and diabetes, cutting back on added sugar offers the simplest yet most potent weapon. Through moderation and smart substitutions, chronic metabolism-related disease could be slashed.

In addition to promoting individual behavior change, governments also have a responsibility to shelters kids from predatory junk food marketing and excessive access to soda in schools. There also needs to be financial disincentives for purchasing sweet junk foods relative to healthy options.

While the damaging effects of sugar can seem irreversible if left unchecked long-term, even short-term abstinence allows incredible gains. With more awareness and better policies that nudge people towards moderating sweeteners, the brain and body can regenerate.




AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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