Fructose: A sugar that can damage genes in our brain

Consumption of sugar may impair our memory and mood. Sugar is a broad term that not only covers the white powder we used in our food and beverages but also a general term for carbohydrates used for energy by our body.

Consumption of sugar may impair our memory and mood. Sugar is a broad term that not only covers the white powder we used in our food and beverages but also a general term for carbohydrates used for energy by our body.

 

Our brain requires a stable source of glucose to keep our brain cells working. But, excess sugar reduces the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which promotes the formation of new brain cells. Low levels of BDNF would then lead to depression and dementia which is possibly linked to Alzheimer’s. People with diabetes have low levels of BDNF. Additionally, high blood sugar levels decrease activity of the hippocampus which is associated with our memory.


Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits, sweet vegetables such as carrots and beets, and in basically all sweeteners (e.g. table sugar, syrup, and honey). Fruits and vegetables naturally contain fructose and is not really a problem. However, excessive amounts of fructose may result to certain diseases. A study by the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) scientists has found out that the hundreds of genes in our brain can be damaged by fructose and lead to diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, and/or Alzheimer’s. Moreover, a variety of cancers are also linked to the overconsumption of refined sugars or fructose found in our everyday food. The reason for this is that fructose was found to affect a metabolic process call 12-LOX which helps spread and nurture cells including cancer cells.


Luckily, the research scientists have also discovered that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, can reverse the harmful changes produced by fructose. According to Dr. Xia Yang, DHA does not only change one or two genes but it reverses the changes in the entire altered gene pattern. DHA naturally occurs in the membrane of our brain cells but not in quantities that can protect us from diseases. This is the reason why DHA has to come from our diet. Fishes and fish oil as well as walnuts, fruits, and vegetables contain DHA.

The study conducted by the UCLA scientists involved rats trained to escape a maze. The rats after being placed in a maze were then

 

 

grouped into three. The first group consists of rats that drink only water. The study conducted by the UCLA scientists involved rats trained to escape a maze. The rats after being placed in a maze were then grouped into three. The first group consists of rats that drink only water. The second group consists of those that drink water with fructose equivalent to drinking a liter of soda a day. Finally, the last group consists of rats that drink water with fructose as well as a diet rich in DHA. After six weeks, all rats were again placed in the same maze. Those that had water and fructose took longer than the other two group to finish the maze whereas those that had water and fructose with a DHA-rich diet took the same amount of time as that of the rats that drank only water. Thus, this study suggests that DHA eliminated the fructose’ harmful effects.


The research group sequenced more than 20,000 genes in the rat’s brain. They have identified more than 700 genes in the hypothalamus and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus that were altered by fructose. These parts of the brain are responsible for metabolic activity and regulation of learning and memory, respectively. What the scientists have discovered is that majority of the identified altered genes where similar to humans. Moreover, alteration of these genes may cause Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other brain diseases.


Out of the more than 900 genes they have identified, two genes namely Bgn and Fmod, appears to be the first genes to be affected by fructose and thus, resulting to a cascading effect which would alter hundreds of other genes. This would imply that Bgn and Fmod can be a target for the development of new drugs in treating diseases caused by altered genes.


In summary, fructose has the capacity to alter genes whereas DHA has the capacity to restore biological pathways and gene networks vulnerable to the effects of fructose. Although DHA appears beneficial, it is not something that can cure diseases. Further studies should still be done to determine the extent of the alteration of genes by fructose as well as the ability of DHA to restore these alterations. However, this advancement in genomics would, no matter what, help in directing towards effective solutions for predicting diseases and also, development of medicines which could cure such diseases.