I’m usually not one to call attention to rat studies. People are not rats, I know this. But I’ve been mentioning this latest study to my patients in the office lately so an exception must be made. In a recent study at UCLA, rats were divided in to 4 different groups and fed a specific diet over the course of 6 weeks. The first group, the control group, was given plain old rat chow. A second group was given high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) only. A third group was given Omega-3 fatty acid only which is found in abundance in normal dietary fat. The fourth group was given a combination of HFCS and Omega-3. At the end of the 6 weeks, the rats were sent through a maze.
Can you guess who was the slowest going through the maze? My patients all knew the answer right away. The rats that ate only HFCS were the slowest.The rats that ate the combination of HFCS and Omega-3 were the second slowest. The rats that ate the plain old rat chow (the control group) were the second fastest. Finally, the rats that ate omega-3 only were the fastest. I don’t think the outcome of this study really surprises anyone, but I still think it is worth highlighting. If you talk to anyone who has truly tried the LCHF diet, one of the first things they will tell you is how they can think more clearly — the brain is less foggy.
There are probably many reasons for this. For one thing, the brain itself needs normal dietary fat to myelinate the nerve fibers (kind of like insulation around an electrical wire). Episodes of reactive hypoglycemia in the HFCS group are surely contributing — after you have consumed foods that cause your blood sugar to spike, your pancreas reacts by producing a large bolus of insulin. The result is what is called a “reactive hypoglycemia” — your blood sugar will go abnormally low. Since your brain can only get energy from glucose in the blood stream (actually, it can get energy from ketones as well, but this not a normal state of physiology), you will get a foggy mind at these moments! In addition to memory loss, people get irritable, moody, and impulsive. It increases hunger cravings. In adults, we tend to get lethargic. In children (particularly younger children), you will see hyperactivity. Since I see and treat quite a few kids for ADHD, this is significant. I do believe that ADHD is real (we know that people with ADHD share certain genetic markers). But I think it is obvious to everyone that environmental factors such as diet, sleep and uncontrolled allergies will impact ADHD-type behavior (when I talk to kids about this in the office, I avoid the term ADHD — I just ask them if they feel “out of control” and they usually know exactly what I’m talking about). So the bottomline is that avoiding anything that causes your blood sugar to swing significantly during the day (sugar, HFCS, refined wheat) should be minimized or avoided.