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One Major Side Effect of Drinking Sugary Beverages, Says New Study

Yet another long-term harm has been identified for children who drink too much soda.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Not that you need to hear this again (or do you?): sugary drinks are damaging to children's long-term health. As if fears of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease aren't bad enough, now a new study has zeroed in to find how sugar-filled beverages can damage a young person's brain much later in life.

We get it, a lot of families loosened the house rules around nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as we've seen for decades, children who don't follow healthy, disciplined diets can come to face serious health problems down the road. Now, a new neuroscientific study reveals that sugary beverages in particular have an impact on brain function later in life. Namely, when a child regularly drinks beverages high in sugar, he or she is more likely to be at-risk for memory impairment when they grow up.

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The study, which was just published Wednesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry, was led by a team of researchers from USC, UCLA, and the University of Georgia. For years, the corresponding researcher for the experiment, Scott Konoski, Ph.D., has studied the impact of sugar on cognition and emotion. What's new about this study is the focus on how gut bacteria play into it.

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To examine this, the researchers separated adolescent rats into two groups: one group drank water, and the other a sugary beverage. Then, a few weeks later, when the rats were considered "adult," the researchers monitored two parts of the animals' brains that are responsible for memory: the hippocampus, which deals with memories related to emotion, and the perirhinal cortex, which processes learning and memory through the senses.

What they found? "The rats that consumed high levels of sugary drink had more difficulty with memory that uses the hippocampus," the study authors write. "Sugar consumption did not affect memories made by the perirhinal cortex." In other words, this research suggests that regularly drinking sugary beverages in adolescence may impair your memory as an adult.

The lab team also identified a particular gut bacterium that turned up in significantly higher levels in the sugar drinkers. They transplanted that bacterium into the water drinkers and found again that even among the rats who didn't consume sugar, their brain activity changed in a similar way as the sugar-drinking group did.

This study may highlight that sugar consumption impacts the way nerve cells transmit electrical signals to other nerve cells, and "how they send molecular signals internally," the researchers wrote. They added that, for humans, this study could lead to more research revealing how better diet and exercise habits can potentially reverse the damage to the brain that sugar consumption in earlier years may cause.

To clean up your family's act—and your fridge—check out our latest list of the 30 Worst Sodas That Are Never Worth Drinking.

Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more
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