Is Sugar as Toxic for Baby's Mind as Abuse?

by ParentCo. February 16, 2016

In a new study published by Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, researchers observed extensive changes to the region of the brain that controls emotion and behavior in a population of rats who consumed sugar-water. It's widely understood that early life stress increases the risk for mental illness and psychiatric disorders later in life. It's also understood that early stress influences the preference and consumption of high-sugar, high-fat foods. This study is notable in that it combines both of these ideas and additionally examines, "...whether the impact of early life stress on the brain was exacerbated by drinking high volumes of sugary drinks after weaning." The authors of the study explain, "We found that chronic consumption of sugar in rats who were not stressed produced similar changes in the hippocampus as seen in the rats who were stressed but not drinking sugar." They continue,

"The changes in the brain induced by sugar are of great concern given the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, with particularly high consumption in children aged nine to 16 years....The fact that drinking sugar...reduced the expression of genes critical for brain development and growth is of great concern."

Ok BUT, if these scientists are talking about rats, why should the rest of us care? The researchers clarify, "While it is impossible to perform such studies in humans, the brain circuits controlling stress responses and feeding are conserved across species. These findings suggest future work should consider possible long-term effects of high sugar intake, particularly early in life, on the brain and behavior." WAIT. WHAT? Excessive consumption of high-sugar foods early in life could potentially be as damaging to baby's future mental health as early life exposure to extreme stress and trauma. The upshot? This is yet another in a long list of science-backed reasons why it's so important to limit sugar intake, particularly among the very young.
Source: Science Alert, The Conversation
Study: Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. Sugar Consumption Produces Effects Similar to Early Life Stress Exposure on Hippocampal Markers of Neurogenesis and Stress Response



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