Sugar

Negative Effects of Sugar on the Brain

Too much of anything can be bad for your health, sugar included. And while most people are aware of sugar’s negative effects on their waistline and heart, how it affects the brain is far less common knowledge.

Although the brain does require a certain amount of sugar in order to function properly, this type is known as glucose and is found naturally in foods like fruits and grains. It’s the process of adding sugar to processed foods and beverages, that is of far more concern, as consuming excessive amounts of it can have long-term negative effects—including these five.

1. Causes Cravings and Addiction

Sugar addiction is a real and growing concern for a large majority of the world’s population. But how exactly does this happen? The Huffington Post explains that when a person consumes sugar, the tongue’s taste buds become activated and send signals to the brain, “lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released.”

And while the source says stimulating these reward pathways with sugary treats is okay from time to time, over-activating them can lead to more serious concerns such as “loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar.”

2. Impairs Memory and Learning Skills

According to Forbes, people who consume too much added sugar—produce less of the chemical brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). As BDNF assists the brain with learning and the formation of new memories, without a sufficient amount of it the source says “we can’t learn (or remember) much of anything.”

3. Contributes to Depression

Consuming too much added sugar can also have major impacts on your mood and mental health. One example of this is a ‘sugar crash,’ where the body’s blood sugar spikes upon consumption of a sugar-rich snack or beverage, and then plummets soon after, leaving you “feeling anxious, moody or depressed,” says the Huffington Post.

4. Linked to Alzheimer’s Dementia Disease

As mentioned earlier, overconsumption of added sugar causes the body to produce less BDNF, which, among other things, helps with memory formation. So it’s probably not surprising to learn that it’s linked to dementia and related conditions.

In fact, Forbes says “It’s possible that low BDNF may turn out to be the smoking gun in these and other diseases, like Alzheimer’s.” Although more research about this connection is still being conducted, the source says that “what seems clear in any case is that a reduced level of BDNF is bad news for our brains, and chronic sugar consumption is one of the worst inhibitory culprits.”

5. Inhibits ‘Overeating’ Sensor From Working

It’s common knowledge that overconsumption of sugar can lead to weight gain, and in severe cases obesity, but researchers are now coming to understand exactly why. According to Forbes, recent discovery show that “chronic consumption numbs the brain’s anorexigenic oxytocin system, the sensor that prevents overeating.”

And with this crucial sensor disabled—on an almost-permanent basis in some individuals—“our brain doesn’t release hormones to signal that we’re full,” resulting in excessive overeating, thus perpetuating the problem even further.

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Rachel Despres

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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