Sugar Smarts

New research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help counteract health problems caused by sugar intake.

Those buttercream-topped cupcakes and caramel-infused lattes are especially hard to resist this time of year, even though we know sugar contributes to a host of health problems, from obesity to cancer.

The good news, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, is that even if you do occasionally give in to sugar’s sweet siren song, omega-3 fatty acids can help counteract the damage.

A team of researchers led by Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, a professor in the department of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, gave two groups of rats a 15 percent fructose solution for six weeks. One of the groups also received a daily dose of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential omega-3 fat found in cold-water fish that is one of the main structural components of the brain and eyes.

When the rodents’ mental abilities were tested in a familiar maze, those taking omega-3s easily navigated the paths. The set that did not receive omega-3s forgot the maze route and was slow to finish.

Gomez-Pinilla found that excessive amounts of fructose cause insulin resistance, making it difficult for the hormone to regulate neuron signaling. Omega-3s seem to help by fortifying the protective sheath that covers neurons, allowing information to flow freely between the cells.

The study results, which were published in the Journal of Physiology (May 15, 2012), are encouraging. But Gomez-Pinilla stresses that people should still take care to manage and reduce their sugar consumption whenever possible. And, knowing that most of us are susceptible to the occasional sweet tooth, he suggests regularly taking fish-oil supplements and eating foods rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, walnuts and avocados.


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