New research led by a University of Georgia faculty member in collaboration with a University of Southern California research group has shown in a rodent model that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during adolescence impairs performance on a learning and memory task during adulthood.
The group further showed that changes in the bacteria in the gut may be the key to the sugar-induced memory impairment.
Supporting this possibility, they found that similar memory deficits were observed even when the bacteria, called Parabacteroides, were experimentally enriched in the guts of animals that had never consumed sugar.
“Early life sugar increased Parabacteroides levels, and the higher the levels of Parabacteroides, the worse the animals did in the task,” said Emily Noble, assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences who served as first author on the paper. “We found that the bacteria alone was sufficient to impair memory in the same way as sugar, but it also impaired other types of memory functions as well.”
Noble said future research is needed to better identify specific pathways by which this gut-brain signaling operates.
Children are the highest consumers of added sugar, even as high-sugar diets have been linked to health effects like obesity and heart disease and even impaired memory function.
However, less is known about how high sugar consumption during childhood affects the development of the brain, specifically a region known to be critically important for learning and memory called the hippocampus.