Los Angeles, CA—A recent study from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has brought some new evidence to light about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)’s effect on the brain.

The objective of the study involved providing evidence for the effects of metabolic dysfunction on brain function induced by HFCS consumption, while exploring the dangers of unhealthy dietary habits on the brain rather than just the body, specifically that of metabolic syndrome: health factors that could contribute to heart disease and other problems. Researchers measured the effects of metabolic syndrome on insulin signaling, synaptic plasticity (measuring the strength of synaptic connections within the brain) and behavior when influenced by HFCS. In an effort to find a way to counteract any negative effects, the team also studied how an omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid; DHA)-enriched diet could help stop insulin resistance as well as using providing learning and memory support and counteracting the effects of metabolic syndrome.

Previously, DHA has been associated with reducing metabolic disturbances and supporting blood sugar health. Here, researchers hypothesized that adding DHA to a diet not completely devoid of unhealthy elements (as they acknowledge is difficult) would be beneficial to protecting mental health.

For one week, rats were fed a standard diet and were trained on the Barnes maze test, a tool often used in psychological experiments to test spatial learning and memory, before being randomly assigned to either a DHA-rich diet or a DHA-deficient diet and drinking water with or without HFCS. After five days, the animals were again assessed in the maze test, and all rats showed a decrease in speed, regardless of diet. After six weeks, however, the rats were tested again for memory retention, and the DHA-deficient rats showed a significant increase in latency time, indicating memory impairment enhanced by HFCS consumption. Levels of glucose and insulin were higher in the non-DHA diet than the diet with DHA, which actually showed to reduce fructose induced insulin and triglyceride levels.

By the end of the study, the researchers found that HFCS consumption impaired the cognitive abilities of the rats without DHA and standard cognitive ability in the rats with DHA added to their diets. Overall, the study provided evidence of how HFCS may have more of than effect than previously thought on cognition and memory.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2012 (online 5/31/12)