High-fructose Corn Syrup Hinders Recovery

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A diet high in processed fructose may sabotage the brains’ ability to heal after head trauma, UCLA neuroscientists report. There may be a link between nutrition and brain health, the finding offers implications for the 5.3 million Americans living with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million people suffer a TBI each year, resulting in 52,000 annual deaths

“Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery and integrative biology and physiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “We found that processed fructose inflicts surprisingly harmful effects on the brain’s ability to repair itself after a head trauma.”

Fructose also occurs naturally in fruit, which contains antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients that prevent the same damage.

The UCLA team found that fructose altered a wealth of biological processes in  brains after trauma. The sweetener interfered with the ability of neurons to communicate with each other, rewire connections after injury, record memories, and produce enough energy to fuel basic functions.

“Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity — the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new,” said Gomez-Pinilla, who is a member of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. “That’s a huge obstacle for anyone to overcome — but especially for a TBI patient, who is often struggling to relearn daily routines and how to care for himself or herself.”

Earlier research has revealed how fructose harms the body through its role in contributing to cancer, diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Gomez-Pinilla’s study is the latest in a UCLA body of work uncovering the effects of fructose on brain function.  His team previously was the first to identify the negative impact fructose has on learning and memory.

“Our take-home message can be boiled down to this: reduce fructose in your diet if you want to protect your brain,” Gomez-Pinilla stressed.

Sources of fructose in the western diet include honey, cane sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener. Made from cornstarch, the liquid syrup is widely added as a sweetener and preservative to processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food.

My Opinion

Although the article specifically addresses high-fructose corn syrup as it relates to recovery from brain injury, it seems to me the same issues would be a concern regardless of whether or not a person an adversity or an adversity different than brain injury. If high-fructose corn syrup adversely affects the communication of neurons, it must be true that it adversely affects anyone with a brain.


Thanks to researchers at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine for conducting the study and summarizing their findings; Elaine Schmidt for writing to article that is the basis for my opinion; UCLA Newsroom for committing its resources to publishing the article; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for contributing information used in the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text in this post.


  1. A timely article to be sure after witnessing funeral servicess for one family member, missing another’s services in another state, and having the matriarch of the family have a life-threatening surgery also. With these impacts of fructose and brain injuries in its many forms. Is it possible to effect the injury into specific desired sections of brain? In essence, whereby the human would significantly seek out fructose-process product (ie alcoholic beverages) for the explicit properties mentioned, in order to reduce the onslaught of memories and emotions during highly stressful and emotive times, Therefore the more occasioned and multi-cultural tendencies to mix funerary rituals with sugary foods and beverages may simply represent opting for a situational reality in which humanity knowingly has sought pointed relief. A relief past and present per se from a deluge of memory and emotion specific to a current reality. Whether this ever actually served this desired purpose, multiple cultures have found, and still find relief in sugary food celebrations surrounding funerary rituals for centuries.

    1. Lori, I believe you are asking if sugary foods and beverages can create an imaginary reality in a specific part of the brain. If this is what you were asking, I have a short response. If this is not what you asking, please clarify your question so I may address your question.

      The article was not about alcohol or its potential impact on the brain. To the best of my knowledge, alcohol destroys brain cells and makes people act in ways they would not act without alcohol. My understanding is alcohol negatively affects the entire body. Although alcohol may help people forget, the impact is temporary (unless you drink so much, you destroy your brain) and cannot target the specific events the person would like to forget. I have not researched the connection between alcohol and funerary customs, but my guess is the connection exists due to misunderstanding, tradition, bonding, and sorrow.

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