Sugar and Brain Function

Moderation Is Key


What is the correlation between sugar and brain function? It turns out that this relationship, like any relationship, has it's good points and it's bad points. Have you ever felt the excitement and agitation of a sugar buzz? And then the lethargy of a sugar crash? Your brain needs some sugar to function, yet too much sugar can be harmful. We all love to have those sweets but must learn to enjoy them in moderation, here's why...


Glucose is a form of sugar that your body creates from the carbohydrates you eat. Once the glucose is made it gets into the bloodstream so that your muscles and organs can use it for energy. In fact, your brain needs at least 125 to 150 grams of glucose per day to function. It's usually the only source of energy for the brain. The brain's neurons must have this supply of energy from the bloodstream since they aren't capable of storing energy, like fat, for later use.

Good and Bad Sugar

Sugar and Brain FunctionBut not all sugar is equal. There are different forms of sugar that your body uses for energy, some more harmful than others. The brain needs a steady supply of energy that will last until more energy comes along. Spikes in this supply are dangerous and cause things such as hyperactivity and 'sugar crashes'. The sugar from fruit will get into the bloodstream at a steady rate as the fruits digests in the stomach. Fruits also provide great sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber, so fruit sources of sugar are great for the brain and your body.

Complex carbohydrates such as starch also break down in the liver to form sugar. These strands of energy take a longer amount of time to break down, so this source of sugar works well with the brain in much the same way as fruit. They can provide energy for hours without diminishing. One thing to think about though about complex carbohydrates is that they contain appetite enhancers and so tend to cause people to overeat, unlike fruit.

Refined sugars and brain function are a big no-no. These are the sugars we typically find in abundance on store shelves and in the average North American diet. The sugar energy from soda, cookies and desserts, flood your bloodstream with glucose almost immediately. At first you get an initial 'sugar high' as the sugar queues serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy, to be released into the brain. The massive increase in blood sugar signals the pancreas to start pumping out large amounts of insulin. Once the insulin gets into the bloodstream it soaks up the sugar to store for later use, depriving the brain, other organs and muscles of energy. These are the beginnings of the infamous 'sugar crash' as you become weak, tired and unable to focus. The 'sugar high' combined with the ensuing 'sugar crash' causes you to crave even more sugar, most likely resulting in a damaging cycle of sugar binging. So avoid refined sources of sugar as much as possible.

Negative Mental Effects

Another connection between sugar and brain function concerns dysfunction. People who regularly eat too much sugar over a long period of time often become diabetic. These people often have dwindling mental capabilities. They are more at risk to develop depression and different cognitive problems with memory, processing information and recognizing spatial patterns. It can even lead to dementia. Also, people who suffer from diabetes have a 65% higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease than those who are not diabetic.

A group of women were studied to reveal this problem of sugar and brain function. Some were diabetic, some had somewhat high blood sugar but were not officially diabetic, and some had normal blood sugar levels. Over the course of the four year study the women with more blood sugar problems were shown to suffer from most mental decline.

While we need sugar for brain and body functions, we all should be careful about where and often we get our sugar. This is pretty much a golden rule for good overall health. Make sure to get your sugar energy from fruit sources and complex carbohydrates for good steady energy and avoid refined sugar that causes harmful blood sugar spikes.


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