Western diet consumption, high in fat and sugar, is known to be linked to many negative health outcomes including diabetes and cardiovascular problems but also impairments in learning and memory. The impact of diet on cognitive process is still poorly understood but as Scott Kanoski (from University of Southern California) explained “the brain is especially vulnerable to dietary influences during critical periods of development, like adolescence”.
Last month, Scott Kanoski and his group studied adolescent rats to model the effect of high sugar diet on memory in the developing brain. Memory function and brain inflammation was assessed in a group of adolescent rats with free access to liquids containing a high concentration of sugar and compared their performance to a group of adolescent rats on a normal diet and adult rats on high sugar. All groups were tested in various mazes to examine their spatial memory abilities and inflammation was also investigated in the hippocampus, a region critical for memory and spatial navigation.
The group of adolescent rats consuming the high sugar liquids had a worse performance in the mazes compared to adolescent controls rats (with normal diet) which might be linked to inflammation on the hippocampus. Also, this impairment was not observed in adult rats on a high sugar diet.
Therefore, the study showed that consumption of high sugar diet during adolescence, a critical period for brain development, not only has an impact on metabolism but also on memory function. This result has important implications regarding the effect of drinking large amounts of sweetened beverages during teenage years.
Written by Laetitia Schwab.