Sugar, sugar and the candy brain

March 7, 2012 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

As a child, you were taught that too much sugar leads to tooth decay. It’s time now to teach your children that too much sugar may lead to brain decay too.

In an article published by Nature, called The Toxic Truth about Sugar, Lustig et al write, “Evolutionarily, sugar as fruit was available to our ancestors for only a few months a year (at harvest time), or as honey, which was guarded by bees. But in recent years, sugar has been added to virtually every processed food, limiting consumer choice. Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy. In many parts of the world, people are consuming an average of more than 500 calories per day from added sugar alone.”

Sugar as a poison

In a nutshell, the glucose part of sugar is good for you, and the fructose-sucrose part is generally bad. The brain makes up a small percentage of the body but requires the majority of energy to run it. Glucose funds this operation, but a lot of foods contain high fructose corn syrup or sucrose.

The fructose component of sugar is metabolised primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolised by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form – soda or fruit juices – the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple. The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolises the fructose and glucose.

“So it’s not about the calories,” as Lustig is quoted in the New York Times Magazine. “It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s a poison by itself.”

Sugar kills brain cells

High levels of blood sugar over an extended period of time may cause direct damage to nerve cells due to accumulations of certain end-products. Nerve cell damage might also be caused indirectly by damage to small and large blood vessels in the brain due to deposits of fatty materials which clog the blood vessels. This means hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

A brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is responsible for the development of new brain tissue. If you didn’t have this chemical in your brain, your brain wouldn’t develop properly and you would die very soon after birth.

BDNF is important for normal brain function, and high sugar diets (along with high fat diets and lack of essential fatty acids) decrease BDNF. In fact, low amounts of BDNF actually leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and even diabetes. This means that high sugar in the blood leads to low BDNF, and then low BDNF leads to worsening of blood sugar control, which leads to high blood sugar, which leads to worse blood sugar control.

The combination of low BDNF and nerve-damaging excitotoxins can lead to cognitive decline in any number of ways: Depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, dementias, Huntington’s disease, or schizophrenia.

See also: How artificial sweetners destroy nerve cells.

The greedy master

What we see in practice mostly are manifestations of stress-related disorders. Stress over long periods of time, or acute stress – physical or emotional. Stress wears the brain down and depletes its neurochemistry. The brain still needs large amounts of energy to keep everything functioning, so it starts stretching out its languid tentacles to claim energy from wherever it can. Like a business that’s failing and needs money fast, the brain looks to whatever resources it can find. You become the avatar for your brain and suddenly find yourself in addictive patterns without even realising; not only in acquiring sugar, but perhaps smoking, drinking, negative thought (self stimulation) or even television (visual stimulation). This is because stimulation is fundamental to a healthy brain, and it will do whatever it can to keep the engine going! But because the brain’s resources are depleting rapidly, and it’s not being fed right, and there is no appropriate stimulation coming from the spine (life’s little secret), you will engage in any activity or addictive behaviour to keep going, whether it’s good for you or not. This is where the slippery slope begins.

Stop the slippery slope

  1. Review your addictions. Be honest with yourself.
  2. Cut out high fructose corn syrup based products.
  3. Change refined white sugar to raw brown sugar, and white bread to brown.
  4. Exercise to a light sweat. Anything preceding the “sweat threshold” is pointless.
  5. Get your spine checked by a chiropractor to normalise stimulatory cycles in the brain.


Fehm HL, Kern W, Peters A. The selfish brain: competition for energy resources. Prog Brain Res. 2006; 153:129-40.

Molteni R, Barnard RJ, Ying Z, et al. A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience. 2002; 112(4):803-14.

Robert H. Lustig, Laura A.Schmidt & Claire D. Brindis. Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012; 482, 27–29.

Yaffe K, Blackwell T, Kanaya AM, et al. Diabetes, impaired fasting glucose and development of cognitive impairment in older women. Neurology. 2004; 63: 658–663.

© Dr Neil Bossenger 2012

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