Chronic sugar intake could be damaging our minds the same way as stress

Eating excessive amounts of sugar can cause detectable levels of brain damage, a new study has found, making it just as damaging to our wellbeing as chronic stress.

The study published in the Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience journal was put together by researchers from Australia and India. It found that sugar could leave the brain in a damaged state similar to what chronic stress can do, showing that it is important to look after our diet as well as our mental health in order to protect our wellbeing.

“Adverse early life experience is a known risk factor for psychiatric disorders,” the study explained. The scientists wanted to investigate whether this increased risk factor could be replicated by altering diet. It did this by comparing the way that a high sugar diet and a stressful early-life could affect the development of the brains of rats.

It was found that those who had stressful early-lives were less able to deal with stress constructively, meaning it affected them more, a development which was also seen in the rats who had been raised on a high sugar diet. This was because the hippocampus, the area of the brain which deals with behavioural reactions and the regulation of stress, among other things, had a reduced glucocorticoid receptor (a marker of high susceptibility to stress).

Those rats who were stressed or had a high sugar diet had a 40% increase of this marker compared to a control group.

The study summarised that they had demonstrated “for the first time that chronic [sugar] consumption alone produces similar detrimental effects on the expression of hippocampal genes as [early-life stress] exposure.”

Of course, humans are not rats, but it does highlight the potential effects that a poor diet can have on our minds. It is becoming more and more well known that physiological and mental health are not as separate as we once thought, but we may now have to look at our diets and mental health with closer scrutiny.

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