According to a new study by UCLA neuroscientists, diet may play a significant role in determining how long an individual needs to recover from mental deficits following a traumatic brain injury. The animal study showed that a diet high in processed fructose impaired rats’ brains’ ability to heal following head trauma.
“Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery and integrative biology and physiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “We found that processed fructose inflicts surprisingly harmful effects on the brain’s ability to repair itself after a head trauma.”
Fructose is also naturally found in fruit, however fruits contain antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients that prevent the same damage from occurring.
According to the report published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, the researchers fed laboratory rats standard rat chow and trained the rats to escape a maze over 5 days. Then, the rats were randomly assigned to two groups. One was fed plain water while the other was fed fructose-infused water for six weeks.
A week after this, the rats were anesthetized and administered a brief pulse of fluid to the head to reproduce aspects of TBI in humans. Then, six weeks later, the researchers retested the rats’ ability to recall the route and escape the maze.
The findings show the rats given a fructose diet took 30 percent longer on average to find the exit compared to those given normal drinking water.
The UCLA team says the fructose altered numerous biological processes in the animals’ brains following trauma such as the ability of neurons to communicate with each other, rewire connections after injury, and record memories.
“Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity — the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new,” said Gomez-Pinilla, who is a member of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. “That’s a huge obstacle for anyone to overcome — but especially for a TBI patient, who is often struggling to relearn daily routines and how to care for himself or herself.”
Past research has associated fructose with contributing to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver, but this study is the latest in exploring the link between fructose and brain function. The team of researchers previously found evidence for the negative impact fructose has on learning and memory.
“Our take-home message can be boiled down to this: reduce fructose in your diet if you want to protect your brain,” Gomez-Pinilla cautioned.