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ASK YOUR PHARMACIST - How sugar can reduce brain power (and Omega 3’s may increase it)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on


Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. Tel 0449334591. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

There is lots research and evidence of the negative effects of too much sugar on weight, diabetes risk, liver function and even cancer risk. A recent study shed some light on negative effects of sugar on the brain and the positive effects of omega 3’s.

Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) did research on lab rats. Before the study, the rats needed a few days to learn to navigate a maze set up by researchers. Then some of the rats were given diets rich either high in omega-3 fatty acids or lacking omega 3s. One group of rats were given a sugary solution in the place of regular drinking water. After six weeks on their respective diets, researchers put the rats back in the maze to see how their memory recalled it the maze routes previously learnt.

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The rats that had diets lacking in omega-3 were slower at navigating the maze than the ones who had diets rich in omega-3s. The rats given the sugary solution instead of water showed the slowest brain function. The rats deprived of DHA had trouble thinking clearly and were unable to recall routes learned weeks earlier. DHA is an important fatty acid in omega 3 that is thought to aid brain function.

The researchers reckon that sugar may block the effect of insulin on brain cells thus influencing our thoughts and reducing our ability to have crisp or clear thoughts.

It is important to remember that not all sugar is created equal. Professor Gomez-Pinilla (of the UCLA study) explains that natural fructose (the type of sugar) found in fruits are safe and contain natural antioxidants; however manufactured food products such as artificial sweeteners and preservatives can be harmful. He is especially concerned with “high-fructose corn syrup” which is the most common sweetener used in America but thankfully more restricted in Europe; however there are many unnatural sugars in the Irish diet which can cause problems.

This study seemed to show that Omega-3s counteract the effect of sugar. However; it also shows the importance of cutting down on highly processed, high-sugar foods. Our bodies are not very good producers of DHA and EPA (the essential fatty acids that make up omega 3); therefore a diet rich in fatty acids is very beneficial. The best sources of DHA/EPA are oily fish like mackerel, tuna, sardines and salmon. For vegetarians and those that do not like fish, flaxseed oil which is also known as linseed oil is six times richer than most fish oils in and its oil are perhaps the most widely available botanical source of omega 3.

While studies in animals have no guarantee of the same effect in humans, the findings do seem to mirror the results of other studies on sugars and omega 3’s.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all our readers

Disclaimer: Advice in this article is general. For more specific advice and information on diet and food, you should speak to a dietician or nutritionist

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