Can Fructose Make Your Brain Want to Overeat?

A recent brain study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fructose, which permeates the American diet in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, may trigger brain changes that lead to overeating.

In their study, researchers used MRI scans to study how fructose affects brain blood flow. In 20 young, normal-weight people, the administration of a fructose-flavored drink reduces blood flow to the brain, including areas that regulate hunger, like the hypothalamus, insula, and striatum.

These results add to the list of reasons for the recent passing of soda-size restrictions in New York City provided by New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and multiple public health experts. While the jury is still out on whether fructose is to blame for America’s obesity problem, they believe the new law is a step in the right direction. In their debates, some argued that it is easier for a person to over-drink than over-eat because one doesn’t feel as full when he or she consumes calories in liquid form, which leads to fructose overconsumption.

The increasing fear of fructose can be attributed to how it affects the body differently than the glucose in regular cane sugar. Because the structure of the two sweet molecules are different, the body processes them differently. Our body needs some form of sugar for energy; however, while it can effectively regulate glucose metabolism all over the body, fructose, a smaller molecule, bombards only the liver, raising blood sugar faster than glucose. This can lead to excess fat production.

Both types of sugar have been in the human diet for thousands of years. Fructose is found not only in high fructose corn syrup, but also in fruits and vegetables. However, much of the debate around fructose use in our diet involves our increasing use of high-fructose corn syrup, a type of sugar that has been combined with corn syrup to produce a cheap dissolvable sweetener for a wide range of foods, from soda to ketchup. Because of the difference in how our body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup, many experts believe this surge in fructose is to blame for our increasing rates of obesity.

While promising, this fructose study only follows 20 individuals, so the research results may not be entirely applicable to the American public; however, it adds to a growing list of evidence that shows how our pervasive use of high fructose corn syrup may be to blame for America’s obesity epidemic. However, many experts still believe more evidence is required to make such a claim.

This study concerning fructose evokes earlier studies done my Dr. Suzanne DeLaMonte, that connected insulin resistance from high blood sugar levels to Alzheimer’s disease –  even considering Alzheimer’s to be “diabetes of the brain.”

Whether it be fast food, soda consumption, increasing portion sizes, increasing inactivity or high fructose corn syrup, most of the medical establishment believes the cause of our growing obesity problem is multifactorial. Dr. Jonathan Purnell, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, considers fructose to be a “possible contributor along with many other environmental and genetic factors.”

Regardless, The Dr. Oz Show recommends you make dropping soda one of your 2013 New Year’s resolutions. Try our 28-day soda detox challenge!