Fructose Could Slow Brain Injury Recovery

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After a traumatic brain injury, you and your family will do everything you can to heal – therapy, treatments, and even surgery. But what you eat – specifically a diet containing a lot of fructose sugar – might be slowing your brain injury recovery down.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have released a study they say suggests that fructose could be affecting brain plasticity and slowing brain injury recovery. The study, led by Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery and integrative biology and physiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, was published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism.

Dr. Gomez-Pinilla explains:

“Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. . . . We found that processed fructose inflicts surprisingly harmful effects on the brain’s ability to repair itself after a head trauma.”

Fructose is a sugar found in fruit, honey, cane sugar, and particularly corn syrup. Fruit also contains anti-oxidants, fiber, and other nutrients that help prevent damage. However, corn syrup is often added to foods without these nutrients as a sweetener or a preservative. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average American consumed about 27 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup in 2014. That’s almost eight teaspoons per day.

Earlier studies suggest a high-fructose diet can contribute to cancer, diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Now, the researchers at UCLA have taken the first steps to show it also negatively affects brain injury recovery.

In the study, rats trained to find an exit in a maze were given either regular water or sugar water containing enough fructose to simulate an American diet. Six weeks later, the rats were put under and given a brain injury. Then the rats were put back into the maze. The fructose-fed rats took 30 percent longer to find the exit than the rats who drank water.

The UCLA team found that the fructose the rats’ biological processes after the injury. The fructose interfered with the nerve cells (called neurons) in the brain, making it harder for the rats to form new connections, record memories, and even produce energy.

“Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity — the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new. . . . That’s a huge obstacle for anyone to overcome — but especially for a TBI patient, who is often struggling to relearn daily routines and how to care for himself or herself.”

The lesson from the study was clear: cut down on fructose now to protect your brain in case of injury later.

“Our take-home message can be boiled down to this: reduce fructose in your diet if you want to protect your brain.”

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He helps victims of traumatic brain injury get their expenses covered after an auto accident. If you or someone you know has suffered a brain injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.