A new study out of UCLA, published in the journal EbioMedicine, has revealed that the consumption of fructose can alter the make-up of hundreds of genes within the human brain. These distortions may lead to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and a range of other diseases.
The study also revealed that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, has the power to reverse the negative effects of fructose on brain genes.
The study involved three groups of rats, with 8 rats in each group. At the start of the study, the rats were all trained to make their way through a maze. Then, for six weeks the three groups were given water fortified as follows:
- Group 1 had fructose added to their water (the equivalent of a person consuming one liter of soda)
- Group 2 were given water with fructose and DHA added
- Group 3 were given water with no fructose or DHA added
At the end of six weeks, the rats were once again put through the maze. The rats who were given water with no added fructose or DHA were able to complete the maze, on average, twice as fast as those who consumed the water with fructose. However, the group that were given water with fructose and DHA had results that were on par with the water only group.
From these results, researchers concluded that consumption of fructose has the ability to impair the memory. However, when DHA is ingested, it has the power to reverse the harmful effects of fructose on the memory.
The second phase of the study involved a study of the changes to the genes of the rats. More than 20,000 genes were sequenced in each of the test rat’s brains. The Group 1 rats (fructose added) showed negative impact to more than 900 genes. The majority of affected genes were involved in vital bodily functions, such as metabolism regulation, communication between the cells and inflammation.
The research report noted that two genes appeared to act as catalysts, causing a chain reaction leading to hundreds of abnormalities. These genes, the first to be affected by the fructose, were Bgn and Fmod. Targeting them with medications designed to counter the affects of gene altering substances may be promising and warrants further study.
The rats in the other two groups had no negative gene impact, showing that DHA is able to reverse the negative genetic changes brought on by fructose.
According to the senior author of the study, UCLA assistant professor of integrated biology and physiology, Xia Yang, the genetic changes that were noted as a result of fructose consumption could precipitate such conditions as bipolar disorder Parkinson’s Disease, and depression.
Further testing on the test rats showed that those who were on the fructose and water diet had elevated levels of blood glucose, triglycerides and insulin. These markers are all linked with cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.
The study shed new light on just how fructose affects brain genes. A previous study by Gomez-Pinala, et al, discovered that fructose breaks down the communication between brain cells. The current study revealed that it does this by altering the make-up of cytosine, a DNA nucleotide.
The effect of DHA on reversing the negative impact of fructose on the brain was a pleasing outcome of the study. DHA has the ability to make connections between genes in the brain stronger, countering the effect of fructose. It also speeds up the process of learning and memory, though researchers don’t know exactly how. However, the authors of the study, were quick to note that DHA is not a cure-all for over consumption of fructose. More research will be needed to determine the exact mechanisms that facilitate the changes brought on by DHA consumption.
DHA is manufactured by the body, but only in tiny quantities. In order to have an effect on countering fructose’s negative impact on the brain, DHA needs to come through the diet. The best source of DHA is a high quality fish oil. Other sources of the compound are wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and fruits and vegetables.
With Americans consuming around 27 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year, mainly in the form of carbonated soft drinks, the ramifications of this study are important for the mental health of the nation. Not only will soda pop and rich desserts lead to obesity, they will also negatively impact upon memory and other mental functioning.
The take home message?
Cut back on sugary soft drinks, pastries and desserts and eat more wild salmon, nuts, fish oil and vegetables. Or to make things easy just simply supplement with a high quality fish oil!
University of California – Los Angeles. “Fructose alters hundreds of brain genes, which can lead to a wide range of diseases: Scientists report that diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can reverse the damage.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160422091900.htm>.