By Dr. Mercola
It's a fact that excess dietary fructose can harm your body by setting up the conditions for diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver, but what does it do to your brain? Studies have not addressed this question—until now.
A new UCLA study1 is the first to show how a steady diet high in fructose can damage your memory and learning. The study was published in the Journal of Physiology.
Researchers investigated the effects of high-fructose syrup, similar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a cheap sweetener six times sweeter than cane sugar, which is used in most soft drinks, processed foods, condiments, and even many baby foods.
The team sought to study the effects of a steady intake of this super-processed, concentrated form of fructose, which is quite dissimilar from the naturally occurring fructose in fruits. They fed rats a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks, then tested their ability to remember their way out of a maze.The results certainly grabbed the researchers' attention.
Too Much Sugar Makes You Stupid!
The rats fed fructose syrup showed significant impairment in their cognitive abilities—they struggled to remember their way out of the maze. They were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier.
Additionally, the fructose-fed rats showed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls your blood sugar and synaptic function in your brain.
Because insulin is able to pass through your blood-brain barrier, it can trigger neurological processes that are important for learning and memory. Consuming large amounts of fructose may block insulin's ability to regulate how your brain cells store and use sugar for the energy needed to fuel thoughts and emotions. The average American consumes roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture2.
Researchers concluded that a high fructose diet harms your brain, as well as the rest of your body. But there is even more to this story.
A second group of rats was given omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), in addition to the high fructose diet. After six weeks, this group of rats was able to navigate the maze better and faster than the rats in the non-DHA group.
The researchers concluded that DHA is protective against fructose's harmful effects on the brain. DHA is essential for synaptic function—it helps your brain cells transmit signals to one another, which is the mechanism that makes learning and memory possible. Your body can't produce enough DHA, so it must be supplemented through your diet.
HBO Documentary Series: "The Weight of the Nation"
The HBO Weight of the Nation documentary is a collaboration among the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kaiser Permanente, and several other health-related organizations. The entire series can be viewed free of charge from their website.
Sadly however, HBO chose to interview many who did not understand the foundational causes of obesity, and their editors chose to continue many myths that are simply incorrect, like using insulin for type 2 diabetes; a calorie is a calorie and you simply need to burn more to lose weight, for example, both of which are utter nonsense. If you have time, the four hour series is useful to watch and has some powerful illustrations and statics that are true, just be warned it is filled with loads of misleading dietary fallacies.
It is projected that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030, which is expected to cost the nation roughly half a trillion dollars per year in additional health costs.
Clearly, that will affect YOU, whether you are among the 42 percent or not.The obesity problem cannot be solved by waiting for the food industry to be struck by a wave of altruism. Big business always has and always will be driven by healthy profits, not healthy people. America has cultivated a toxic culture that has written real food and exercise right out of the script.
The facts are sobering3:
- Americans today consume an average of 600 more calories per day than they did in 1970
- Seventy-five percent of Americans now drive to work, a 300 percent increase since 1960
- In 1969, 42 percent of kids walked or biked to school, versus less than 20 percent today
- Fewer than five percent of adults meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity, and one in four adults gets no physical activity at all
- Currently, only four percent of elementary schools, eight percent of middle schools, and two percent of high schools provide physical education
Drugs are a TERRIBLE Answer to the Diabetes Epidemic
Skyrocketing obesity rates are accompanied by escalating rates of type 2 diabetes. This makes perfect sense when you realize the two problems share the same primary cause: insulin resistance. As was confirmed in the UCLA fructose study, a major driver of insulin resistance and therefore a major driver of increasing diabetes rates, is excessive fructose consumption. According to the CDC's 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet4:
- Diabetes affects 25.8 million people, which is 8.3 percent of the total U.S. population
- Among Americans age 65 or older, 26.9 percent have diabetes and 50 percent have pre-diabetes
- Among Americans age 20 or older, 79 million people (35 percent) have pre-diabetes
- Among Americans age 20 or younger, 215,000 have diabetes
- Overall, if you have diabetes, your risk for death is about TWICE that of people of similar age who don't have diabetes
Most conventional physicians are quick to pull out the prescription pad as a first-line defense against type 2 diabetes—but the price you pay for diabetes drugs is a high one. In fact, taking glucose-lowering drugs is typically far more dangerous than the disease itself and actually has the potential to radically increase your risk of death from heart attacks, and all other, causes.
Avandia (rosiglitazone) is the poster child for the dangers of diabetes drug treatment. A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine5 linked Avandia to a 43 percent increased risk of heart attack, and a 64 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death, compared to patients treated with other methods. It took nearly 10 years of the drug being on the market for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action and restrict access to this dangerous drug, whereas the European Medicines Agency banned it altogether.But now another diabetes drug has been drawn into the spotlight.
Whistleblower Exposes Deadly Effects of Diabetes Drug Actos
Actos, a type-2 diabetes drug manufactured by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, is now the subject of hundreds of lawsuits. It was pulled from the market by both France and Germany a year ago after being found to cause bladder cancer and other tumors. But now, a whistleblower, Dr. Helen Ge, has come forward with a lawsuit of her own stating that the drug company is benefiting from "tens of billions of dollars in sales" at the expense of the lives of people still taking the drug6,7,8.
Dr. Ge worked in the Takeda's pharmacovigilance division, where she was in charge of reviewing side effects of Actos as reported by patients and physicians. She then prepared safety reports that were filed with the FDA―reports that Ge says she was ordered to water-down or not report at all, so Actos would look better than it actually was.
Dr. Ge believes Actos is even more dangerous than Avandia.
She believes that, besides bladder cancer and tumors, Actos is also connected to heart attacks and stroke, suicide, schizophrenia, homicidal ideation, and renal failure. Dr. Ge claims Takeda concealed reports from regulators about hundreds of heart failure cases directly related to the drug in an attempt to drive sales. Dr. Ge filed her lawsuit in September 2011. Actos is still being sold in the United States.
Getting Off The Path of Dietary Madness
But what can be done to derail this obesity freight train that seems to be speeding out of control? The obesity epidemic is different from naturally occurring epidemics in that it is completely human-created. The good news is it has the potential of a human-directed reversal, which begins with expanding awareness about the gravity of the problem. If you are one of my long-term readers, you already know I've been committed to expanding this awareness for decades. In one of the featured articles, best-selling author David Sirota lists what he believes are five of the most promising ways to reverse these trends and the science-based rationale for each9 :
- Taxing junk food. Multiple studies confirm that this strategy does indeed work—people's food choices are affected by price.
- Stop subsidizing junk food. Stop giving money to corn and soy growers and start paying farmers to produce real food like fruits and vegetables—the foods that will improve the nation's health. There is NO inherent reason junk food should cost less than fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Ban junk food in schools. Nearly half of public and private schools surveyed sold sweet or salty snack foods in vending machines or other places, and in most schools, school lunches are not much better
- Stop glorifying unhealthy eating habits. It's time the media are held accountable for equating America with hot dogs, apple pie, and cheesesteaks, and the message this sends to America's youth
- Start broadening our understanding of obesity. There is no denying the abundance of science disproving conventional wisdom that "a calorie is a calorie"—it's time for the mainstream to wake up and acknowledge the factors responsible for obesity, particularly massive quantities of fructose and refined grain products that Americans are consuming each day.
What Have You Got to Lose?
Solving this problem is going to require significant changes on personal, community, and nationwide levels. The Weight of the Nation website10 lists a wide variety of action steps you can take on all of these levels. But the best first step is to take an honest look at your own personal lifestyle habits—and start making some changes there.
Whether you need some slight dietary tweaking or a total nutritional overhaul, here are some basic strategies you can implement today to get yourself off the "path of dietary madness":
- Avoid as much sugar as possible, especially fructose. This is especially important if you are overweight or have diabetes or pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Limit your fructose intake to 25 grams per day (refer to this chart to see the fructose content of common whole foods).
If you want to use a sweetener occasionally, consider using the herb stevia, or organic cane sugar or organic honey in moderation. Avoid agave syrup, as most commercial products are just highly processed sap consisting almost entirely of fructose.
- Consume your sugar with fiber. Fiber helps modulate the impact of sugar by slowing absorption. The perfect sweet food is a piece of fruit, which contains fiber as well as beneficial antioxidants.
- Eat a well balanced diet, tailored to your specific body type. It should consist of ample raw foods, fresh organic produce, grass pastured meat and dairy, raw nuts and seeds, and naturally fermented foods. Avoid processed foods, genetically engineered foods, and foods with added chemicals. For more information, refer to my total nutrition plan.
- Get plenty of high quality omega-3 fats from both plant and animal sources. As the study above showed, omega-3's are crucial to modulating the damaging effects of sugar—and have MANY other benefits. My favorite animal-based omega-3 source is krill oil.
- Optimize your vitamin D level.
- Exercise every day. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reduces stress and cortisol levels, suppresses ghrelin (the appetite hormone), speeds up your metabolism, strengthens your bones, and even lifts your mood.
- Rehydrate with fresh, pure water.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Manage your stress.
How Fructose Turns ON Your "Fat Switch"
If you have ever struggled losing weight and keeping it off, you already know what a challenge that can be. Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado has published hundreds of articles and two books on this topic: The Sugar Fix, and most recently, The Fat Switch, which presents a groundbreaking approach to preventing and reversing obesity. According to Dr. Johnson, based on his decades of research:
"Those of us who are obese eat more because of a faulty "switch" and exercise less because of a low energy state. If you can learn how to control the specific "switch" located in the powerhouse of each of your cells – the mitochondria – you hold the key to fighting obesity."
There are five basic truths that Dr. Johnson explains in detail in his new book that overturn current concepts:
- Large portions of food and too little exercise are NOT solely responsible for why you are gaining weight
- Metabolic Syndrome is A NORMAL CONDITION that animals undergo to store fat
- Uric acid is increased by specific foods and CAUSALLY CONTRIBUTES to obesity and insulin resistance
- Fructose-containing sugars cause obesity not by calories but by turning on the fat switch
- Effective treatment of obesity requires turning off your fat switch and improving the function of your cells' mitochondria
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which has been described as the "Holy Grail" for those struggling with their weight. Dietary sugar, and fructose in particular, is a significant "tripper of your fat switch," so understanding how sugars of all kinds affect your weight and health is imperative.