Could Your Sweet Tooth Be Making You Forgetful?

Diana Keeler
by Diana Keeler
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Could Your Sweet Tooth Be Making You Forgetful?

Here’s another reason to skip the Twix. Pretty much everybody knows that sugar is terrible for your teeth, and recent studies—like those shared in a widely seen, generally terrifying 2012 “60 Minutes”—have linked it to everything from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Now, scientists worry that there’s another disease to add to that list: dementia.

Researchers at the Charité University Medical Center in Berlin have linked a diet high in sugar to impaired memory—and even to structural changes to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a key role in the formation of new memories; it’s also where damage from Alzheimer’s disease may first appear. Basically, the goal is to have an exceptionally healthy hippocampus—and the German researchers have found that “glucose might directly contribute to hippocampal atrophy.” They studied 141 healthy adults without diabetes or pre-existing memory problems, evaluating their blood sugar levels and performing both memory tests and MRIs. The higher the blood sugar level, the worse subjects performed on the memory quiz—similarly, participants higher sugar levels showed a smaller hippocampus. The study’s author, Dr. Agnes Floel, cautioned that researchers can now point to an association between sugar and memory impairment, though not, at this time, a causal one—meaning that scientists can’t say definitively that high sugar levels cause memory problems, only that they’ve observed the two things together.

An interesting side note: Four years ago, Floel conducted a study showing a restricted-calorie diet offered a significant increase in memory: After three months of eating 30 percent fewer calories than usual, Floel’s study participants—overweight and “elderly”—increased their scores on a memory test by 20 percent. So for optimal memory retention, erring on the side of less sugar and fewer calories may be the way to go.

In terms of sugar consumption, many of us have room for improvement. The World Health Organization is considering a proposal that would recommend a daily sugar intake of under six teaspoons, or 25 grams. A single can of soda has about 10 teaspoons, or 40 grams. The average American consumes over 20 teaspoons a day—nearly four times the suggested amount.

Do you keep track of your sugar intake in MyFitnessPal? Have you made efforts to cut back? Think you will now?

About the Author

Diana Keeler
Diana Keeler

Diana Keeler has written about travel, health, and adventure for The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Outside, and other outlets. She’s run two marathons and done P90X on five continents—but still struggles to cut fried shrimp from her diet. She once drove from London to Mongolia in a 1990 Nissan Micra; for reports and pretty pictures from some less demanding trips, follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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7 responses to “Could Your Sweet Tooth Be Making You Forgetful?”

  1. Avatar Ayla Jensen says:

    What about the naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables?

  2. Avatar RedwoodCoast says:

    I used to track sugar intake, but it wasn’t useful because there was no distinction between added sugars and those that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, unsweetened yogurt and milk, etc.
    But I would certainly track added sugars if that capacity became available.

  3. Avatar drmom says:

    Naturally occurring sugars count! When I had to track my sugar carefully, an apple was sometimes the only source of sugar and it spiked my levels!

  4. Avatar A7sus4 says:

    I do. I gave up carbohydrates almost two years ago. I eat less than 30g of non-fiber carbs a day. I recommend it.

    • Avatar Pedro says:

      I assume when you say you gave up carbs you mean you gave up refined sugars? If you gave up carbs you’d be dead.

      • Avatar A7sus4 says:

        No, I mean all digestible carbohydrates refined or otherwise. The body is actually quite capable of utilizing fat as a primary energy source. In fact the usage of fat as the primary energy source eliminates the storage of it. Of the 2500 calories I eat a day 65% is from fat, 30% is from protein, and 5% is from carbohydrate, part of which is fiber. Like I said, I eat less than 30g of insulin-response-inducing digestible carbohydrates.

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