While the hard science directly linking sucrose and fructose to impaired human brain development is either lacking or inconclusive, a Bristol-based study tracking 14,000 British children called “The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children” has provided a potential causative link between a predominantly processed food-based diet at the age of 3 and a lower IQ at the age of 8, suggesting that any cognitive/behavioral effects relating to eating habits in early childhood may well persist into later childhood, despite any subsequent changes to dietary intake. As might be expected, the converse effect of improved mental performance was also demonstrated in children whose diets were comprised of foods rich in nutrients.
Regular, repetitive exposure or bingeing on foods containing refined, processed sugars does something else to these young impressionable brains. In certain situations, it creates a situation that is not all that different from what happens in the brains of addicts and alcoholics. That is to say, overconsumption of sugar can have addictive effects on the brain.
In an informative TED-Ed animated piece by neuroscientist Nicole Avena entitled, “This is Your Brain on Sugar,” she describes how regular exposure of the brain to sugar sends the brain’s reward center into overdrive in much the same way as drugs of abuse such as alcohol, nicotine and heroin. The refined sugar elicits the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine from the same part(s) of the brain that reinforces repetitive drug and alcohol using behavior via the same neurochemical mechanism.
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