While the effects of sugary drinks on our health have been widely studied, now there's new stark evidence that they may damage our brains.
A new study carried out by the University of New South Wales Australia in Sydney examines the effects of sugary drinks on our brains, using rats as test subjects.
The rodents were used to observe whether the impact of early life stress worsened with the consumption of sugary drinks. Since women are more prone to experiencing adverse life events, female rats were used for the study.
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Half the sample was exposed to limited nesting material from the second until ninth day of birth. They were then put back into a normal setting until weaning off. This was done in order to alter maternal behavior and increase anxiety in the infant rats. Once they were weaned off, half of them were then given access to a regular diet along with a 25% sugary solution, which they could choose to drink. The other half were only exposed to a simple diet consisting of chow and water. Rats consuming the sugary drinks of course consumed more calories than those who just ate a normal rat diet.
The experiment kept the rats under observation until they were 15 weeks old, after which their brains were examined. The hippocampus, important for memory and stress, was studied in four groups of rats: the control (no stress) group, control rats drinking sugar, rats exposed to stress, and rats exposed to stress who drank sugar.
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Rats that were not stressed but consumed sugar had a similar brain as those that were stressed but did not have sugar. In short, the effect of sugary drinks on a rat’s brain was the same as that caused by extreme early life stress.
A gene, important for the growth of nerves Neurod1, was also reduced by sugar and stress similarly, thus showing that drinking sugar from a young age hampers the growth of nerves in rats.
The findings of the study compel future work studying the effect of high sugar intake so we can understand sugar's impact in-depth and possibly come up with alternatives to sugary drinks.