Food: Groundbreaking Research

by PAYAM MIRFENDERESKI

 

FRUCTOSE CAN CHANGE THE EXPRESSION OF GENES IN YOUR BRAIN

Through soft drinks, syrups, and desserts, Americans consume an average of 27 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year. The consumption of high levels of fructose, a sugar found naturally in small concentrations in fruits, has long posed concern because of its purported role in the obesity epidemic. [1] Thanks to a study spearheaded by UCLA’s Xia Yang and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, fructose has now been linked to changes in gene expression in regions of the brain important for metabolism and memory. By altering the biochemical groups present on the base cytosine in DNA, fructose can influence whether various genes get turned on or off in the brain. Yang and Gomez-Pinilla have linked the genetic disruption caused by fructose to increases in glucose, insulin, and triglycerides, which are markers for diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, the researchers have also discovered that an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA can prevent these changes in gene expression. Found in wild salmon and other types of fish, DHA is present in only low concentrations in our brain cells, and must be consumed in our diets. Although a diet low in high fructose corn syrup and balanced in DHA seems reasonable, more research needs to be done to see how these two compounds interact with each other and regulate brain function. [2]  

 

SUGAR ADDICTION MAY BE ABLE TO BE TREATED BY DRUGS THAT TARGET NICOTINE ADDICTION

The behavioral and neurological characteristics shared between people who consume high amounts of sugar and people who take drugs suggest that sugar may be an “addictive” substance. Neuroscientists at the Queensland University of Technology have discovered that excess sugar consumption can cause similar changes in dopamine function as drugs of abuse like tobacco and cocaine. [3] Specifically, high sugar intake leads to elevated dopamine levels initially and decreased dopamine levels later on. Both natural and artificial sweeteners have been found to induce these changes in dopamine function. The neuroscientists have also discovered that nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) modulators can alleviate the withdrawal effects of “addiction” to sugar. The FDA-approved nAChR modulator varenicline has been shown to reverse sugar dependency, and the neuroscientists suggest it and similar drugs may potentially prove effective in treating sugar addiction. [4]

 

PREDIABETES AND DIABETES AFFECT OVER HALF OF ADULTS IN CALIFORNIA

A study conducted at UCLA estimates that 15.5 million California adults (55% of the state population) are afflicted with either prediabetes or diabetes. Of these, only 2.5 million have diagnosed diabetes, revealing that many adults live without knowledge of their conditions. Prediabetes is a condition of elevated blood glucose levels, levels that are not high enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis yet still high enough to promote concern. Prediabetes is especially a problem for young adults, with 33% of those aged 18-39 in California estimated to have it. The study discovered that young adults of color and those of underprivileged backgrounds tend to have disproportionately higher rates of prediabetes. Nonetheless, it is important to know that both prediabetes and diabetes are preventable. While 75% of those with prediabetes develop diabetes later in their lifetimes, this escalation can be prevented through the implementation of effective dietary and lifestyle changes. [5]

 

ANTIBIOTICS CAN DESTROY BAD BACTERIA, BUT CAN NURTURE THEM TOO

While antibiotics are often used to prevent the spread of infection and disease, they are known to cause various side effects due to their harmful effects on good bacteria in the gut. A study led by UC Davis professor Andreas Bäumler has now elucidated the mechanisms behind these adverse effects. [6] Antibiotics typically deplete good bacteria in the gut in addition to certain pathogenic species. Among the good bacteria depleted are those that break down fiber and allow cells to take in oxygen. Antibiotics thus cause a buildup of oxygen in the gut lumen, creating an environment well-suited for the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella. Antibiotics can therefore indirectly promote the expansion of pathogens, making individuals more vulnerable to future infections. [7]

 

References ▾

  1. “Pathogenesis of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases: Are Fructose-Containing Sugars More Involved Than Other Dietary Calories?” Curr Hypertens Rep. (2016).
  2. “Fructose alters hundreds of brain genes, which can lead to a wide range of diseases.” newsroom.ucla.edu. (2016).
  3. “Treating sugar addiction like drug abuse.” sciencedaily.com. (2016).
  4. “Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Modulators Reduce Sugar Intake.” PLoS One. (2016).
  5. “Majority of California adults have prediabetes or diabetes.” newsroom.ucla.edu. (2016).
  6. “Antibiotics allow gut pathogens to breathe.” ucdmc.ucdavis.edu. (2016).
  7. “Depletion of Butyrate-Producing Clostridia from the Gut Microbiota Drives an Aerobic Luminal Expansion of Salmonella.” Cell Host Microbe. (2016).