Way back in an earlier time, humans relied on fructose production inside the brain to help them forage for food. Now, we’re learning that same process might be responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus note that when the body metabolizes the sugar fructose — whether it was eaten or produced inside the body — it triggers the instinct to forage. Their findings were published recently in the American Society for Nutrition’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Fructose helps prevent the brain from focusing on things such as memories and attention to the passage of time that can interfere with the body’s need to focus intensely on gathering food, the researchers say.
In addition, fructose lessens the flow of blood to an area of the brain responsible for self-control and increases blood flow to an area of the brain linked to food reward.
This process previously served humans well in times of scarcity. But in our time of abundance, the physiological response that once helped us survive might now lead us to consume too much high-fat, sugary and salty food.
Eating those foods in turn results in excess fructose production, the researchers say. And that can be harmful to the brain.
In a summary of the findings, Dr. Richard Johnson — lead author of the study and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine specializing in kidney disease and high blood pressure — says:
“A study found that if you keep laboratory rats on fructose long enough, they get tau and amyloid beta proteins in the brain, the same proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease. You can find high fructose levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s as well.”
Johnson even suggests that the well-documented tendency of Alzheimer’s patients to “wander” might be linked to the foraging response.
The researchers are recommending both dietary and pharmacologic trials to see if reducing fructose exposure and metabolism would help prevent or manage Alzheimer’s disease.
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