Sugar and the Brain

 Written by Chris Claussen, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation Officer


About the Author: Chris has over 20 years of experience in product and business development. For the past five years he has focused exclusively on innovative product development in the functional foods and functional mushrooms space. Chris brings experience exploring, experimenting, and conducting extensive research on the relationship between functional foods/ mushrooms and metabolic, brain, and mental health.​


In a world where sugary treats are readily available and often irresistible, the impact of sugar on our overall health is a subject of growing concern. While most people are aware of the potential effects on weight and metabolism, the influence of sugar on the brain and cognitive performance is equally significant. 

When we eat foods high in sugar, our pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to move the sugar out of the blood and into our cells. This causes a spike in insulin. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. As insulin levels crash, it leads to fatigue, hunger, and sugar cravings. This sets off a vicious cycle of sugar spikes and crashes that have been linked to many health problems down the road.  It has been associated with everything from depression to stroke to dementia. Sugar essentially makes our brains age faster by damaging blood vessels and killing brain cells. Tests of mental acuity, information processing speed, memory, reasoning, and verbal intelligence all show reductions associated with high sugar intake. These cognitive declines mimic accelerated brain aging - the equivalent of 5-7 additional years!

Direct Impact of Sugar on the Brain: 

Inflammation and Oxidative Stress:

High sugar intake has been linked to increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. Chronic inflammation is associated with various neurological disorders, and oxidative stress can damage cells, including those in the brain. These factors contribute to cognitive decline over time.

Insulin Resistance:

Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to insulin resistance, a condition where cells no longer respond effectively to insulin. The brain's ability to utilize glucose for energy becomes compromised, potentially leading to cognitive impairment and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance:

Sugar can impact the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and serotonin, which play crucial roles in mood regulation and cognitive function. Fluctuations in these neurotransmitters may contribute to issues such as poor concentration, mood swings, and impaired memory.

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Reduction:

BDNF is a protein crucial for the growth, development, and maintenance of neurons. High sugar intake has been associated with reduced levels of BDNF, potentially hindering the brain's ability to form new memories and learn.

Cognitive Performance:

Excessive sugar consumption can have an immediate and pronounced impact on cognitive performance. The rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar levels that accompany a high-sugar diet can lead to feelings of fatigue, mental fogginess, and difficulty concentrating. The brain's response to fluctuating glucose levels may result in impaired memory recall, reduced attention span, and hindered decision-making abilities. The sharp rise in insulin, triggered by the influx of sugar, can contribute to a temporary state of cognitive disarray. 

The good news is that our brains can recover quickly once we cut back on sugar. Within just a week or two of decreasing sugar intake, hippocampal shrinkage can be reversed. Memory and brain function improve across people of all ages when they cut sugar from their diets. Cutting out excess dietary sugar alleviates inflammation, nourishes brain connections, and stimulates new learning across all ages. Our brains bounce back quickly when we stop overloading them with sweets!



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