Consuming Sweets Can Form Memories That May Control Eating Habits, Says Study

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Yaneff_151115Sugar is found in many things, including candy, soft drinks, and other baked goods. Yet a day doesn’t go by that many Americans don’t crave sugar. It’s almost like your sugar craving can’t be controlled. However, researchers believe that eating those sweet foods may actually control your eating habits.

In a new study published online in the journal Hippocampus, researchers from Georgia Regents University, Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, and Georgia State University have found that consumption of sweet foods can cause the brain to form a memory of that meal. The study results found that certain neurons in the dorsal hippocampus are activated when sweets are eaten.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is crucial for episodic memory. It is a type of memory related to autobiographical events that a person experiences at a particular place and time.

“We think that episodic memory can be used to control eating behavior,” explained study author Marise Parent, and professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State.

For the study, a meal with either saccharin or sucrose significantly boosted the synaptic plasticity marker expression called activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (Arc) in the neurons of the dorsal hippocampus in rats. In the brain, synaptic plasticity is considered one of the vital neurochemical foundations for the development of new memories.

“We make decisions like ‘I probably won’t eat now. I had a big breakfast.’ We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate,” added Parent.

The possibility that people make eating decisions based on memories of past meals and meal times corresponds with previous studies from the researchers. They found that dorsal hippocampal neurons temporarily inactivate after a sucrose meal. As a result, the time period in which the subject forms a memory from the meal speeds up the start of the next meal and causes the subject to consume more food.

Another study published in the journal Brain, Behaviors, and Immunity in 2014 showed that relatively short exposure to diets rich in sugar, or sugar and fat, impaired hippocampal-dependent place recognition memory in rats.

Forming memories from a meal is considered an important development to a healthy diet. Researchers have also found that disrupting memory encoding of a meal in humans can increase the amount of food that is eaten during their next meal. For example, watching television while eating can play an important factor in the process. Studies have also found that those with amnesia will eat another meal when presented with food, even though they had just eaten. This happens when they have no memory of eating the meal.

Parents believe that scientists must consider how the brain controls meal frequency and onset in order to understand energy regulation and the causes of obesity.

Previous research has also found that increasing snacking habits is associated with obesity. In other words, obese individuals have a tendency to snack more than those at a healthy weight. Adults and children also seem to be consuming many daily calories from snack foods, and especially from sugary snacks, deserts, and sweetened beverages. Excessive sugar consumption is also linked with nervous behavior, depression, anxiety, yeast infections, gout, gallstones, kidney stones, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol in the blood.

The research team plans to conduct future studies to help determine the effect of a nutritionally balanced solid or liquid diet with fat, carbohydrates, and protein, on Arc expression in the neurons of the dorsal hippocampus. They also are determined to understand if Arc expression increases are important for the development of memories of sweet foods.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Henderson, Y.O., et al., “Sweet orosensation induces ARC expression in dorsal hippocampal CA1 neurons in an Experience-dependent manner,” Hippocampus, 2015; doi: 10.1002/hipo.22532.

“Eating sweets forms memories that may control eating habits,” ScienceDaily web site, November 13, 2015;
Beilharz, J.E., et al., “Short exposure to a diet rich in both fat and sugar or sugar alone impair place, but not object recognition memory in rats,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2014; 37: 134-141, doi: 10.1016/jbbi.2013.11.016.