High-fructose diet hampers recovery from traumatic brain injury
Diet may predict ability to recover
from mental deficits after head trauma, according to UCLA
A diet high in processed fructose sabotages rats' brains' ability
to heal after head trauma, UCLA neuroscientists report.
Revealing a link between nutrition and brain health, the finding
offers implications for the 5.3 million Americans living with a
traumatic brain injury, or TBI. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million people
suffer a TBI each year, resulting in 52,000 annual deaths
"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 also occurs naturally in fruit, which contains
antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients that prevent the same
In the UCLA study, published today in the Journal of Cerebral
Blood Flow and Metabolism, laboratory rats were fed standard rat
chow and trained for five days to escape a maze. Then they were
randomly assigned to a group that was fed plain water or a group
that was fed fructose-infused water for six weeks. The fructose was
crystallized from corn in a dose simulating a human diet high in
foods and drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
A week later, the rats were anesthetized and underwent a brief
pulse of fluid to the head to reproduce aspects of human traumatic
brain injury. After an additional six weeks, the researchers
retested all the rats' ability to recall the route and escape the
The scientists discovered that the animals on the fructose diet
took 30 percent longer to find the exit compared to those that
drank plain water.
The UCLA team found that fructose altered a wealth of biological
processes in the animals' brains after trauma. The sweetener
interfered with the ability of neurons to communicate with each
other, rewire connections after injury, record memories and produce
enough energy to fuel basic functions.
"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."
Earlier research has revealed how fructose harms the body through
its role in contributing to cancer, diabetes, obesity and fatty
liver. Gomez-Pinilla's study is the latest in a UCLA body of work
uncovering the effects of fructose on brain function. His team
previously was the first to identify 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
Sources of fructose in the western diet include honey, cane sugar
(sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid
sweetener. Made from cornstarch, the liquid syrup is widely added
as a sweetener and preservative to processed foods, including soft
drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food.
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