Recent evidence shows that sugar (often consumed as refined fructose-containing beverages such as soda and sports drinks) damages the brain, causes the brain and body to age faster, and increases the risk for stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Excess sugar consumption has become a public health concern in recent years, as it has been shown to cause or worsen health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, it is becoming evident that the damage doesn’t stop there.
Per person, we consume more than 126 grams of sugar per day in the United States. This is more than three 12-ounce sodas and over twice as much refined sugar as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA)! Sugar consumption is particularly high among children, adolescents, and young adults.
Recent research out of Boston University found that individuals who regularly consume sugary drinks have an increased likelihood of developing symptoms of accelerated brain aging.1 These symptoms include poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. These symptoms are risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
If reading this makes you want to switch out your regular soda and sports drinks for diet versions containing artificial sugar substitutes, think again. A follow-up study demonstrated that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia compared to participants who did not consume the diet drinks.2
Taken together, these studies make it clear that consumption of sugary beverages can lead to significant health risks, and that consumption of artificially sweetened drinks is even worse. Research on why artificial sweeteners cause harm is still somewhat new. Evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners change the level and balance of gut bacteria, and may alter the brain’s perception of the sweet taste causing people to consume more. Here’s more information about sugar substitutes and their effect on your child’s mental health.
More research is needed to fully understand the connection between sugary drinks, brain aging, and brain damage. Meanwhile, researchers suggest we refrain from over-consuming both diet sodas and sugary drinks. This recommendation is particularly important for youth and adolescents, as many disease patterns that show up later in life begin with a disease-promoting diet in childhood. Given that children and teens are more prone to receive a significant portion of their daily calories from sugary beverages, it might be time to reevaluate what types of foods and drinks are being consumed in your household. Simple changes like avoiding sodas and drinking water can significantly improve your child’s brain health in the short and long term. They may not be happy about you saying no to these sugary beverages now, but most certainly will thank you when they experience a healthier brain and body into their adult years!
Have you had any luck with switching out high-sugar foods and beverages with low or no-sugar foods and beverages? Comment below.