Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 Ways the Brain is affected by Sugar

Obesity rates are on the rise in the United States and many folks find their weight getting out of control without realizing how obesity really affects their bodies, brains, and their health. The main causes of obesity are due to hormone changes in the body and resistance to the effects of sugar which are due to over indulgence and declining muscle mass due to inactivity.

According to The Indian Sugar Mills Association, sugar is classified as a food "used to improve the palatability of many foods" and is the "cheapest instant source of energy" (ISMA, 2005). However recent research has shown that sugar has similar effects in the brain to select abusive drugs and has a dependency associated with it as well. Sugar is also responsible for changing many psychological and physical functions in the body almost immediately including increasing insulin beyond normal levels, increasing estrogen levels, causing an increase in weight gain, and also effecting aldosterone levels responsible for maintaining blood pressure.

So how does sugar intake and obesity effect our brain?

1) Sugar causes addiction. When we eat sugar the serotonin receptors in our brain that are responsible for "feeling good" are flooded with sugar very similarly to the way heroin acts in our brains as well. This can lead to addiction over a short period of time and can also cause an association between sugar and pleasure. As a result we may associate periods of sadness with a need to eat sugary foods. Think eating ice cream when we are depressed or eating a whole box of chocolates in one sitting. Overtime our brains will eventually dull to this sensation and we will need more sugar to get the same "good" feelings.

2) Obesity causes immune system dysfunction. In a recent study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, obesity has been shown to cause system wide inflammation in the body which leads to decrease immune responses and it there has also been a causative link associated between the increased inflammation and brain damage to the orbitofrontal cortex responsible for controlling impulsive behavior. After this area of the brain is damaged, children tend to act more impulsively and partake in uninhibited eating patterns that cause further obesity.

3) Obesity increases risk for dementia. Studies have shown that visceral fat which is the fat between our organs in the abdomen specifically causes an alteration of normal hormones in addition to the aforementioned systemic inflammation. This combination can lead to brain damage that can lead to a decreased total brain volume which is associated with a higher risk of dementia as well as poor function on cognitive tests.

4) Dieting fads cause binge eating under stress. According to a study in the Journal of NeuroScience in January they found that  mice who lost 10-15% of their body weight tended to eat more then they normally would in stressful situations and their gene expression for regulating stress responses were changes as well. This combination of gene changes and our previous addiction and association of sugar to "feeling good" can cause people under stress to food binge which can lead to further obesity and hormonal changes.

5) Obesity causes memory loss. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatric Society looked at associations between memory function tests and BMI and found that for each BMI point increase there was a 1 point lower association on the memory function tests. Hypotheses as to why are associated with brain damage due to systemic inflammation and the effects of hormones released by fat.

So what can you do to reduce your risk and adopt some Healthy Habits?

Eat a balanced diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Try to cut back on processed foods such as white flour, white sugar, and boxed foods which can lead to body inflammation, sugar addiction, and obesity.  Stay active and engage in regular exercise to reverse changes associated with sugar addiction, insulin dysfunction, and obesity.