How Sugar Can Affect Your Brain

Sugar can affect more than our weight, it can have some serious effects on our brains.

Excessive sugar consumption plays a major role in making us put on weight. It can affect our behavior and cognitive functions negatively as well.

Sugar Crash

Most of us have experienced this ourselves or in our children. After a carbohydrate-heavy meal, dessert or snack, we feel a high from the rush of glucose entering our blood stream. While this sugar high lasts, we feel euphoric and full of energy. Then just as quickly we feel the sugar crash. You might have experienced this crash as fatigue, headache, brain fog, lack of focus, and irritability.

By itself, this is a natural response. Your pancreas produces insulin to regulate your blood sugar level when you consume sugar or carbohydrates. Insulin lowers blood sugar by promoting its storage into our muscle, liver, and fat cells, and promoting the use of glucose for energy production.

The problem arises due to volume and nature of carbohydrates in our food. Most carbohydrate we consume these days are highly refined and absorbed quickly into our bodies.

Sugar crash is perhaps the most immediate and obvious result of heavy sugar consumption in our mind, but it is by no means the most serious. Studies have found that sugar can increase addiction, make us eat more, cause depression, impair cognitive functions, and cardiovascular diseases.

Sugar Can Cause Addiction

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in our reward-motivated behavior. Many addictive drugs like cocaine and morphine activate our reward feelings by increasing dopamine activities.

Sugar has been found to affect us in the same way through dopamine.1 2

In another comprehensive study3, sugar intake is linked to four components of addiction:

  • bingeing: sugar intake is increased significantly over time if allowed;
  • withdrawal: anxiety and behavioral depression are experienced when sugar is withheld;
  • craving: consumption is increased after a period of abstinence; and
  • cross-sensitisation: enhanced response to other drugs and stimulants during sugar abstinence, leading to higher chances of addiction to other substances such as alcohol.

Sugar Can Cause Depression, Impair Cognitive Functions

BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a chemical active in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and higher learning. It is important for the formation of new neurons and the survival of existing neurons.

Decreased levels of BDNF have been linked to many mental conditions including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia diseases including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

High blood sugar levels and fructose consumption are linked to decreased BDNF levels4 5 and with impaired cognitive functions.6 7 8

In related studies, chronic sugar consumption is found to interfere with the brain’s mechanism of signaling when we’ve eaten enough. 9

Sugar May Increase Cardiovascular Disease Risks

In a wide-scale study of over eleven thousand adults in the US over a period of 14.6 years, investigators “observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.”10

♦ ♦ ♦

Sugar is added in various forms in the food we consume, especially beverages and processed food. Our palates have gotten accustomed to a high level of sweetness, and this is damaging our health.

Personally, I’ve cut out sugar in my drinks and food. I drink my coffee and tea black and without milk (kopi O kosong or teh O kosong), and don’t drink any soft drinks or fruit juices. I’ve cut food with high added sugar, including processed snacks and pastries. Now I found my palate reverting, and such food tastes unbearably sweet to me.

I encourage you to take the same journey. It might take a while to get used to the unsweetened taste, but the advantages are definitely worth-while.

Thank you for reading. You can read about my journey, and consider subscribing to my mailing list, following my twitter account, or leaving a comment below.

Dialogue & Discussion

Don't miss our updates!

* indicates required