A diet high in processed fructose sabotages rats’ brains’ ability to heal after head trauma, UCLA neuroscientists report 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 given a traumatic brain injury. After an additional six weeks, the researchers retested all the rats’ ability to recall the route and escape the maze. 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.
“Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor 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. 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. “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.”