Is your sweet tooth all in your head? According to breaking research on sugar and brain chemistry, it very well could be. For years, science has massively underestimated the impact of sugar on our brains — until now.
A new study, recently published in the journal Cell, consisted of taking PET scans of the surface of the brain to see how various brain cells interacted with sugar in the blood. One of the interesting findings by Matthias Tschöp and his research team at the Technical University of Munich was that the brain consumes more sugar than any other organ in the body.
It gets even more interesting. One belief previously held by the scientific community was that the brain only took in sugar as a passive action. Another was that it was neurons that absorbed sugar, not the other cells in the brain.
The Technical University of Munich research team has dispelled both of these beliefs. They found that the brain actively takes in sugar from the blood and that glial cells, which comprise the majority of cells in the brain, are the ones that absorb the sugar.
Glial cells comprise about 90 percent of the brain’s cells, and scientists are just starting to learn more about them. One type of glial cell that the researchers focused on were astrocytes. These glial cells were long thought of as “supporting players” to other cells, but now, it’s been discovered that they play a much more active role.
The PET scans that the researchers performed specifically observed insulin receptors located on the surface of astrocytes. The team found that if some astrocytes did not have an insulin receptor, there was resultingly diminished activity in neurons which are responsible for letting our brains know that we are full, and signaling that we should stop eating.
This basically shows how huge of a role our brains have in controlling our appetites. If the brain is seeking sugar actively, and insulin receptors are missing from astrocytes, we may keep eating and eating, because our brains do not give us the “stop” signal.
On these results, Tschöp explained:
“Our results showed for the first time that essential metabolic and behavioral processes are not regulated via neuronal cells alone and that other cell types in the brain — such as astrocytes — play a crucial role. This represents a paradigm shift and could help explain why it has been so difficult to find sufficiently efficient and safe medicines for diabetes and obesity until now.”
Much more research on this needs to be done, and the researchers hypothesize that immune system cells may be involved in the process of our food intake regulation as well. However, this study is a significant breakthrough in understanding “our brains on sugar.” We’ve known for a long time that sugar is addictive — some studies have found that it may be even more addictive than cocaine. Now, we see how this sweet substance can actively manipulate our brains to seek out more sugar.
While our bodies and brains do need some glucose to survive, the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are more than enough. Those refined sugars, including table sugar and high fructose corn syrup (an even more dangerous fake sugar), are absolutely terrible for our health. They can damage the body and mind, and pave the way for many chronic illnesses.
We’ll stay tuned for more research on sugar and the brain. However, we do already know that we should stay far away from the refined stuff… for the sake of our health.
— Tanya Rakhmilevich