We all know consuming too much sugar can cause a variety of health problems, from obesity to tooth decay. But, did you know overloading on sugar can be damaging to your brain?

Jayanthi Maniam and Margaret Morris, researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia, recently examined the impact of sugary drinks on the brain. They found drinking high amounts of sugary drinks can intensify the impact of abuse and stress on the brain, affecting your health and happiness.

The researchers performed their experiment on Sprague-Downey rats. To stimulate early life stress or abuse, half of the rats were exposed to limited nesting material for a few days after birth. Then, at weaning, the researchers gave half of the rats unlimited access to low-fat chow and water, while the others received unlimited access to chow, water and a 25% sugar solution. They found the rats given sugar consumed more calories during the duration of the study.

The study also revealed that sugar produces similar effects on the brain as extreme stress or abuse. Though the experiment was not performed on humans, it’s indicative of the negative impact of consuming a lot of sugar, especially in children.

According to the researchers, people who are exposed to early life abuse or trauma have changes in the structure of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls emotion and memory. Those who consume diets high in sugar have smaller hippocampal volumes, which is in line with animal data.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends your sugar intake should be no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. That’s about four teaspoons for preschoolers, three teaspoons for children ages four to eight, and five to eight teaspoons for pre-teens and teens averaging 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. For adults, women should consume no more than six teaspoons per day, and men should cap their consumption at nine teaspoons.

View the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, here.

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