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Jul 30, 2014 05:15 AM EDT

Consumption of Sugary Drinks during Adolescence Impairs Learning Abilities, Study

A latest University of Southern California study found that daily consumption of beverages, sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose, during adolescence affects ability to learn and remember information.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, sugary drinks are one of the major contributors to the obesity epidemic. People consuming sugary beverages don't tend to compensate for their high caloric content by eating less food. Previous studies have shown that consumption of beverages with high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose is associated with health risks such as diabetes and obesity.

For the study, the researchers conducted experiments on adult and adolescent rats, who were fed sugar-sweetened beverages daily. These beverages contained sugar concentrations similar to that found in soft drinks.

The researchers found that adult rats who had consumed sugar-sweetened beverages for one month performed normally in tests of cognitive function. However, those who drank these drinks during adolescence performance poorly in tests of learning and memory capability.

"It's no secret that refined carbohydrates, particularly when consumed in soft drinks and other beverages, can lead to metabolic disturbances. However, our findings reveal that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is also interfering with our brain's ability to function normally and remember critical information about our environment, at least when consumed in excess before adulthood," Researcher Dr. Scott Kanoski said in a press release.

Researchers said that besides causing memory impairment, adolescent sugar-sweetened beverage consumption also resulted in inflammation in the hippocampus area of the brain that is related to learning and memory functions.

"In many ways this region is a canary in the coal mine, as it is particularly sensitive to insult by various environmental factors, including eating foods that are high in saturated fat and processed sugar," said Kanoski.

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