In a new study from the University of Georgia and elsewhere, researchers found that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during adolescence impairs performance on a learning and memory task during adulthood.
They also showed that changes in the bacteria in the gut may be the key to sugar-induced memory impairment.
Children are the highest consumers of added sugar, even as high-sugar diets have been linked to health effects like obesity and heart disease, and even impaired memory function.
However, less is known about how high sugar consumption during childhood affects the development of the brain, specifically a region known to be critically important for learning and memory called the hippocampus.
In the study, Juvenile rats were given their normal chow and an 11% sugar solution, which is comparable to commercially available sugar-sweetened beverages.
Researchers then had the rats perform a hippocampus-dependent memory task designed to measure episodic contextual memory, or remembering the context where they had seen a familiar object before.
They found that rats that consumed sugar in early life had an impaired capacity to discriminate that an object was novel to a specific context, a task the rats that were not given sugar were able to do.
The finding shows early life sugar consumption seems to selectively impair hippocampal learning and memory.
Additional analyses determined that high sugar consumption led to elevated levels of Parabacteroides in the gut microbiome, the more than 100 trillion microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract that play a role in human health and disease.
The team says future research is needed to better identify specific pathways by which this gut-brain signaling operates.
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The study is published in Translational Psychiatry. One author of the study is Emily Noble.
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