Skip to content
Close (esc)


Use code NEW15 to save 15% on your 1st order. FREE UK next day delivery if you order before 3PM . FREE USA delivery 5-7 days.

effects of sugar on the brain Sugar and the brain sugar and alzheimer's glucose brain  benefits of reducing sugar intake

Effects of sugar on the brain: a peek into Alzheimer’s disease

Published Aug 16, 2022 | Updated Feb 9, 2024

Between 2016-2019, adults in the UK consumed an average of 106 g added sugars every day. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends limiting added sugar intake to under 30 g per day [1]. New evidence suggests a link between sugar and Alzheimer’s disease [2]. The good news is this can be managed by good dietary practices.

Can sugar contribute to Alzheimer’s development?

Alzheimer’s disease is sometimes referred to as ‘brain diabetes’ due to the strong link between sugar and cognitive decline [3]. It is characterised by physical and behavioural changes in the brain. An important physical attribute noted in the brains of those affected is formation of plaques and tangles that can block brain cells. These are called amyloid beta and tau proteins. The accumulation of these can lead to memory loss, cognitive impairment, and loss of connections between cells [4]. Less than 1% of those diagnosed have a genetic mutation [16], and not everyone suffering from minor memory issues will get dementia or Alzheimer’s in old age. There are many actionable ways to reduce the risk of the disease. Excess sugar intake has been found to contribute to amyloid beta and tau proteins’ accumulation by disrupting metabolism of glucose. Brain regions more prone to amyloid beta and tau protein accumulation had high levels of glucose. And excess glucose in the brain was associated with higher accumulation [5]. In animal studies, when blood glucose levels were doubled, amyloid beta increased by 20%, and in those with Alzheimer’s, this increased by 40% [6].

Can sugar lead to memory loss?

Apart from contributing to production of amyloid beta, sugar decreases the production of a protein involved in producing new brain cells and connections, and is involved in memory and learning. This protein is called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Sugar decreases BDNF production after only 2 months on a high sugar diet [8]. A diet high in sugar and fat causes damage to the brain area that produces the majority of the BDNF, leading to poor performance on memory and learning tests [9]. There is hope because increasing physical and mental exercises can increase BDNF levels. Having higher levels of BDNF was associated with 33% lower risk of Alzheimer’s [7].

Can sugar shrink your brain?

Some studies suggest that it may. A study found that drinking sugary drinks every day, even when consumed in the form of juices which are generally seen as healthy, is associated with brain shrinkage, and decrease in size of brain areas responsible for memory, learning and cognition [10][11]. Loss of brain volume is a key characteristic of Alzheimer's-inflicted brains. Brain shrinkage can be fixed by certain dietary components and increasing physical activity levels. Improving brain cell connections by learning new skills greatly increases mental functions, regardless of brain size.  This needs to be tied in with reducing sugar intake. In diabetes, high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels. In a similar way, excess sugar damages brain cells and decreases blood flow to the brain, causing breakdown of brain structures. 

Can sugar cause brain inflammation?

Excess sugar in the brain promotes the production of inflammatory compounds [12]. Animal studies demonstrated that just 1 month on a high sugar diet was shown to cause brain inflammation, particularly in areas responsible for memory and learning [8]. 

Can the impact of a high sugar diet be reversed?

There are healthy fats that can repair damaged brains. DHA is a type of omega 3 fat that helps maintain structural integrity of brain structure. Those who consumed higher levels of omega 3 fats were found to have a large volume of brain structures involved in memory, learning and emotions [13]. In animal studies, when BDNF levels decreased after brain injury, supplementing with DHA normalised BDNF levels and restored learning skills [14]. DHA is an anti-inflammatory fat and is known to decrease activity of brain cells involved in inflammation [15]. Since prevention is better than cure, it is advisable to prevent sugar induced damage rather than fixing its damage later. There are many benefits of reducing sugar intake. Anecdotal evidence states that those who cut out sugar from their diet had more energy, were in a better mood, could focus better and slept better. There are simple ways in which you can reduce sugar in your diet:

  • Practice healthy swapping- Replace sugary cereals with whole grain cereals, soda and juices with water and tea, flavoured yoghurts with plain yoghurts, tinned fruit with fresh fruit 
  • Use ingredients like cinnamon, unsweetened applesauce, pureed dates instead of sugar to sweeten meals
  • Read food labels and watch out for terms like sucrose/high fructose corn syrup that are used to disguise sugar among ingredients. Choose low sugar/unsweetened options


  1. Public Health England (2020). National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling programme Years 9 to 11 (2016/2017 to 2018/2019). GOV.UK.
  2. Rippe, J. and Angelopoulos, T. (2016). Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients, [online] 8(11), p.697. 
  3. de la Monte, S.M. and Wands, J.R. (2008). Alzheimer’s Disease is Type 3 Diabetes—Evidence Reviewed. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, [online] 2(6), pp.1101–1113.
  4. Bloom, G.S. (2014). Amyloid-β and tau: the trigger and bullet in Alzheimer disease pathogenesis. JAMA neurology, [online] 71(4), pp.505–8.
  5. Kubis-Kubiak, A. et al. (2020). The Interplay between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease—In the Hunt for Biomarkers. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, [online] 21(8).
  6. Macauley, S.L. et al. (2015). Hyperglycemia modulates extracellular amyloid-β concentrations and neuronal activity in vivo. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 125(6), pp.2463–2467.
  7. Weinstein, G. et al. (2014). Serum Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and the Risk for Dementia. JAMA Neurology, 71(1), p.55.
  8. Beilharz, J. et al. (2015). Diet-Induced Cognitive Deficits: The Role of Fat and Sugar, Potential Mechanisms and Nutritional Interventions. Nutrients, 7(8), pp.6719–6738
  9. Calvo-Ochoa, E. et al. (2014). Short-term high-fat-and-fructose feeding produces insulin signaling alterations accompanied by neurite and synaptic reduction and astroglial activation in the rat hippocampus. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism, [online] 34(6), pp.1001–1008.
  10. Pase, M.P. et al. (2017). Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease in the community. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 13(9), pp.955–964. 
  11. Mortby, M.E. et al. (2013). High ‘Normal’ Blood Glucose Is Associated with Decreased Brain Volume and Cognitive Performance in the 60s: The PATH through Life Study. PLoS ONE, [online] 8(9), p.e73697.
  12. Park, J.-S. et al. (2021). Blocking microglial activation of reactive astrocytes is neuroprotective in models of Alzheimer’s disease. Acta Neuropathologica Communications, 9(1). 
  13. Conklin, S.M. et al. (2007). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated positively with corticolimbic gray matter volume in healthy adults. Neuroscience Letters, 421(3), pp.209–212.
  14. Wu, A. et al. (2004). Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids Normalize BDNF Levels, Reduce Oxidative Damage, and Counteract Learning Disability after Traumatic Brain Injury in Rats. Journal of Neurotrauma, 21(10), pp.1457–1467.
  15. Heras-Sandoval, D. et al. (2016). Role of docosahexaenoic acid in the modulation of glial cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation, [online] 13(1).

    1 comment

    • 1. How long does it take to improve memory and other problems after starting DHA?
      2. What other names and forms of DHA can I look for in stores?
      3. Aren’t fruits a bad source of sugar?
      4. What are healthy sugars and why are food labels allowed to say “other sugars”, without naming them? Food and beverage labels SHOULD NOT get by lumping other sugars. The public has a right to know EXACTLY what sugars we consume!!
      The article was very helpful, thank you for making it available.
      PLEASE do NOT use my personal email, etc. for unsolicited contacts

      M. P.

    Leave a comment

    Open tab

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

    Related articles

    diet and dementia omega 3 brain benefits dementia and nutrition

    Jan 25, 2024

    Diet and dementia: NEW study reveals omega 3’s promising role

    A new study conducted on 267312 participants from the UK Biobank has been published. Here’s what they found. 
    epa vs dha what is epa and dha  epa or dha dha brain function which omega is best is dha omega 3

    Oct 6, 2023

    EPA vs DHA – Which Omega 3 is the key to maximise brain power?

    Which omega is best for brain health? EPA or DHA? Read to find the effects of DHA on brain function & why its the better brain fat
    omega 3 brain benefits dha and the brain  brain benefits of dha what is dha  what does dha do

    Aug 14, 2023

    Unleashing the power of your brain: brain benefits of DHA

    Get familiar with an omega 3 compound called DHA while discovering all the beneficial effects it has on your brain functions and how it contributes to your day-to-day life. 
    lifestyle interventions for dementia  best cognitive exercises best foods to prevent dementia  brain sharpening exercises prevent cognitive decline

    Jul 21, 2023

    Lifestyle interventions for dementia: Ways to boost cognition by 25%

    A study finds lifestyle interventions for dementia to prevent cognitive decline. Read more about them & ways to adopt them


    Shopping Cart