Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sugar can make you dumb,  scientists warn

If you are a mistreated rat.  High doses of anything can be harmful -- even water

Let me tell a little story:  I knew an Englishman once who had about 6 cups of tea daily  -- and he always had two teaspoons of sugar in each one.  He also liked his desserts and confectionery. He almost SWAM in sugar, in other words.   He was however an energetic and alert man who had built up and continued to run a very successful business.  How come sugar didn't make him dumb?

Eating too much sugar can eat away at your brainpower, according to US scientists who published a study showing how a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup sapped lab rats' memories.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup - a common ingredient in processed foods - as drinking water for six weeks.

One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the other group was not.
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Before the sugar drinks began, the rats were enrolled in a five-day training session in a complicated maze. After six weeks on the sweet solution, the rats were then placed back in the maze to see how they fared.

"The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

A closer look at the rat brains revealed that those who were not fed DHA supplements had also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

In other words, eating too much fructose could interfere with insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar, which is necessary for processing thoughts and emotions.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new."

High-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in soda, condiments, applesauce, baby food and other processed snacks.

The average American consumes more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

While the study did not say what the equivalent might be for a human to consume as much high-fructose corn syrup as the rats did, researchers said it provides some evidence that metabolic syndrome can affect the mind as well as the body.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Gomez-Pinilla.

"Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimise the damage."


How the wealthy stay healthy years longer than the  poor

This is undoubtedly the most widely replicated finding in epidemiology.

The health of people living in the better-off parts of Britain is improving at a faster rate than those in poorer areas, official figures revealed yesterday.  Residents from affluent neighbourhoods can expect to be almost 70 before illness or disability begins to restrict their quality of life.

However in poorer parts of the country – where women are more likely to smoke, drink and be overweight – people are unlikely to enjoy an active and healthy life beyond 55.

More alarmingly, the projections from the Office for National Statistics, which are based on current trends, found that  the health of women in deprived parts of the country is forecast to get even worse.

The ONS figures don’t identify the areas with the worst life expectancies.  But a previous study in 2009 said men live longest in Westminster and Kensington in London; in Epsom, Surrey; South Buckinghamshire and Wokingham, Berkshire. Women lived longest in Kensington, Westminster, Epsom and Hart in Hampshire and in East Dorset.

By contrast, the lowest life expectancy for men was in Glasgow and Blackpool. Women died at an early age in Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.

Yesterday’s report said that the typical lifespan of someone born between 2006 and 2009 will be 81.4 for men and 84.5 for women in the best-off areas, up from 80 and 83.2 on the likely life expectancy of babies born four years earlier.

For the worst-off districts, men’s overall life expectancy went up over the same period from just 72.2 to 73.3, and women’s from 77.9 to 78.9 – a notably shorter difference than in the wealthier areas.

But it was the ratings for healthy life expectancy that showed a widening gap between the expectations of those in areas of high employment and those where many people are jobless or on benefits.

The ONS estimated what it calls ‘disability-free life expectancy’, the time someone might hope to live without a long-standing health problem.  For men this has risen from 67.3 to 69.4 in the wealthy areas between the two periods. For women in the same areas, the gain is from 67.8 to 69.6.

In the most deprived districts, the disability-free life expectancy of men has crept up slightly from 54.2 to 54.6. For women, healthy life expectations fell from 57.2 to 56.9.

The ONS report said those in richer areas are more likely to benefit from state health programmes and ‘have awareness and knowledge of how to use the system’.

It asked: ‘Why is the gap widening more for females than males? Significant risk factors to good health and longevity include smoking, drinking and obesity.  ‘In recent years there has been a greater decline in patterns of smoking and drinking for men compared to women.  ‘It is also notable that obesity is more prevalent in women than men in low-income households.


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