Omega 3 Fatty Acid Known as DHA Shown to Counter the Adverse Health Effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup, Reveals New Animal Study
Corn, and more specifically, high-fructose corn syrup, is injected into nearly every corner of the food supply, from baked goods to sweetened beverages. Although the substance has been linked to a host of maladies, a new study has established that an important omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA can reverse the genetic damage caused by fructose.
In the recent study, published in EbioMedicine, UCLA researchers found that fructose can damage hundreds of genes and gene networks in the brain, which are responsible for metabolism and brain function. These genetic changes are associated with various illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fructose has been shown to damage genes by removing or adding a biochemical group to cytosine, one of the four nucleotides that comprise DNA, which heavily impacts the way genes are turned on and off. Consistently consuming high-fructose corn syrup can increase brain toxicity, impairing both memory and the ability to learn.
Omega-3s quash genetic damage caused by fructose
But there is good news. The adverse effects of high-fructose corn syrup can be counteracted by an omega 3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA for short. It is a key component in the development of the brain and eyes. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential amino acids, meaning they are not produced by the body, but must be obtained through diet. Although DHA occurs naturally in the membranes of neurons, it is not present in high enough concentrations to ward off disease.
“DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable,” explained Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA assistant professor, in a press release. “And we can see why it has such a powerful effect.”
DHA increases the strength of synapses in the brain, which helps boost memory and learning abilities. It is plentiful in wild salmon but not in farmed salmon. Other sources of DHA include fish and fish oil, walnuts, flaxseed, as well as fruits and vegetables, noted co-author of the study, Fernandez Gomez-Pinilla. “The brain and the body are deficient in the machinery to make DHA; it has to come through our diet,” he said.
Giving rats corn scraps
The researchers tested the effects fructose had on the body by dividing rats into three separate groups. For six weeks, one group of rats received plain water devoid of DHA, another received fructose water and a diet abundant in DHA, and a third group received water with fructose equivalent to the amount found in a liter of soda pop.
After six weeks, the rats retook a maze test. Rats who drank fructose water made it through the maze in about twice the time as the rats who drank plain water. This suggests a fructose diet diminished the rats’ memory. Interestingly, the rats fed fructose and DHA showed similar results to the rats that only drank water, suggesting that DHA countered the effects of fructose.
In addition, the rats receiving a high-fructose diet experienced a number of health problems, including higher blood glucose, triglycerides and insulin levels, which have been linked to obesity, diabetes and various other diseases.
Sequencing the genome
The team sequenced more than 20,000 genes in the rats’ brains. They discovered more than 700 genes in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain responsible for metabolic control, and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory and learning, were damaged by fructose.
Among the 900 genes identified, the researchers found that two genes, known as Bgn and Fmod, were the first genes to be impacted by fructose. Once these genes are impaired, they set off a domino effect that alters hundreds of other genes. The researchers noted that these two genes could serve as a target for new drugs to treat illnesses triggered by gene alterations in the brain.
To reduce your consumption of fructose, the authors of the study recommend avoiding soft drinks loaded with sugar, cutting back on desserts, as well as consuming less sugar and saturated fat in general. In addition, when fishing for salmon at the supermarket, be sure the fish is wild salmon instead of farmed salmon to reap the most health benefits.