Your Sweet Memory

Emily Johnson Sugar Learning

Esmeralda Morales-Gonzalez presents her poster “Does chronic sweetener intake affect learning?” at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting in San Diego. Credit: Emily Johnson

Most of us know it’s not healthy to eat a lot of sugar. Overeating sweets for a long time can cause weight gain, cavities, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. But what if sweets also had effects on your brain and memory? Researchers at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México reported at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting in San Diego that consuming too much sugar may have negative effects on memory.

Esmeralda Morales-González and her colleagues in the neuroscience research group gave mice either water, sucralose (an artificial sugar) in water or sucrose (real sugar) in water for five weeks. They tested how well the mice learned to solve a water maze. For five days, mice were allowed to learn the location of a hidden platform in a mouse swimming pool. (The platform allows mice to stand and rest so they want to find the platform as quickly as possible.) On the sixth day, the research group measured how long it took the mice to get to the platform.

Mice in the sugar group took longer to find the platform, suggesting they had not learned as well as the mice in the other two groups. The fact that sugar impaired learning in mice is still an early finding, and Morales-Gonzalez stresses that more tests need to be done to confirm their data could apply to humans. For now, the data suggest that sugary treats may have not-so-sweet effects on memory.

Emily JohnsonEmily Johnson, PhD, is an APS member and a former volunteer editor for the I Spy Physiology blog.

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