‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition

‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition.

The Metabolic Syndrome http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004546/is a phenomenon having to do with insulin resistance, meaning that the body’s utilization of insulin in the process of converting sugars to energy is blunted, and the energy is instead stored as fat. The abnormal conversion to fat also causes clogged arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

This article describes how rats which are fed a high fructose (fruit sugar) diet develop insulin resistance in the brain. Since the brain can only utilize glucose as its sole fuel, a malfunction of the insulin-glucose system is disastrous for cognition. This corroborates what we see in “real life,” that eating a bunch of sugary stuff makes us feel like crap after the high wears off.  And mind you, this study used fruit sugar, which supports my rant to parents that the fruit juice they pour into the little darlings is no better for them than sugar water (gasp).

Interestingly, rats whose diet was lacking omega-3 fatty acids had a much worse time dealing with sugar-on-the-brain than rats who had normal omega-3 intake.  And even better, rats who were supplemented with omega-3s showed a protective effect from sugar overdose.

Does this mean that if we plan to pig out on chocolate (or grapes!) we should pop a few omega-3 caps beforehand to avoid the post-sugar crash?

Not really, but it does mean that we should take our intake of sweet foods seriously, and that includes fruit, which has always had such a good reputation as a “good for you” food. It is, in moderation, like everything else.

And it provides us with yet another good reason for eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts (in moderation). Truly “brain foods.”


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  1. This is the exact thing I’ve been talking about, and I’d love to hit upon it on Pendulum and cite this.

    I touched upon this in a post called “The Mood Swing Diet”. It was based on information I had processed from an First Aid class when I applied it to Bipolar Disorder. It’s not a surprising theory that people with Bipolar Disorder are chemically sensitive, and there’s even evidence that supports the development of type II Diabetes. With the help of this class, I came up with my own idea of “sugar cycling” (which most doctors and nurses are familiar with, although they don’t usually make a case for it regularly).

    Most of us consume what doctors consider “bad sugar’ meaning processed sugars. These sugars don’t really do us any good, and they are usually delivered in high doses. Soda, juice (which is rarely actually 100% fruit juice anyway), those fancy coffees, and all things of the like. Even people that load down their coffee and tea with refined sugar are at fault. Someone once told me that it’s not so much the caffeine content that people desire, as much as it is the sugar content. In short, we’re sugar addicts.

    Why sugar addicts? Because of sugar cycling. How does a person become an alcoholic? It’s a similar premise and they both involve a person’s sugar levels. Alcohol raises sugar levels. As they raise, people start to feel a little better and a little more at ease. It’s the same idea as resolving a child’s grumpiness by food because it was hunger related. Anyway, eventually, the sugar levels get so high that we become less inhibited and perhaps will start to reveal things about ourselves and others that we wouldn’t otherwise say.

    We wake up the next day, and the result of a hangover are in three components. First, there is obviously the dehydration aspect. Second, the actual strain our bodies feel after putting so much toxin in there. And last, but not least, the bottoming out of our sugar levels. In theory, it’s the subconscious connection between the raising and crashing of the sugar levels that keeps people going back (besides the effect of alcohol as a depressant on the brain).

    So, back to what sugar in our food and drink does to us. Most of us don’t eat right, and we’re aware of that. Usually, it’s a result of our body not immediately recognizing hunger, because our sugar levels are satisfied. But, after so much sugar, we hit a “sugar high”. We are satiated, and most of us lay off after that. Then, if we fail to eat, there is the sugar crash. We are prompted for an influx of sugar with haste. So, what do we do instead of eating? Grab a soda, or something, because the terrible mood and fatigue are interfering with our lives.

    All of this has created our society of sugar addicts. Amazing sugar highs, combined with major sugar crashes, temporarily fixed by another high intake of sugar in order to immediately solve the problem, etc, etc, etc. That’s why we have a culture of people who do not know how to eat healthy, do not drink enough water, and have a difficult time managing their energy levels.

    I wasn’t aware of the Omega-3 making the condition worse. One would assume that it would make it better. But, I’ve read your evidence to the contrary.

    Thanks for the article, and thanks for allowing me to share my personal knowledge and experience with you.

    • Omega-3 is protective, according to the article. SO if you eat things high on omega-3’s or supplement, that will help.

      The sugar used in the study was natural fructose, nothing artificial. This means that eating a lot of fruit all at once or drinking a lot of fruit juice can cause a sugar swing, as we observe in diabetics. What the article is pointing out is that natural sugar from fruit causes sugar swings in the brain, Omega deficiency makes it worse, and Omega supplementation is protective.

      • Oh! Okay! Sorry, I must have read it wrong. Stuff gets jumbled in my head right now. Not surprised. Hypomania will do that. (It’s milder now, no worries).

        You are right about the Omega. Often, I wait awhile after I start taking a supplement to rule out placebo effect. I’ve been taking an Omega / DHA / EPA supplement for over a year now. At first, it was nothing to do with mental health. It was for heart health. I am very concerned that I’m determined to be 27 and in poor heart health. I’ve asked why repeatedly, but all the doctors can tell me is that I was dealt a raw hand in terms of genetics.

        It’s not surprising, after all, I guess. My father had heart problems well before his emergency quadruple bypass at 50. They just didn’t know about them. Two of my aunts on my mother’s side had heart surgery for stints and such before 60. Probably a little after 50 or so. If you decide that I got a bad hand from both parents, then that would predict a bad heart at an early age. But, it is terrifying, because I know women do not bounce back from heart problems like men do, and it’s the second highest killer of women out there.

        Anyway, back to the Omega on mental health. I started to notice that in combination with Co-Q10, my mental health was starting to improve. I don’t know about my physical health, because I haven’t had my yearly physical yet. But, I know that a daily dose of Co-Q10 can be the difference between a difficult day and a decent day, just because it supports my energy level. I don’t know if it’s because it fixes a somatic problem or if it really is beneficial to my mental health. I don’t really care either. The only reason it would be relevant information would be to pass to others as a treatment option.

  2. There’s a big difference between types of fruits and the way they metabolize as well. Some have high water and fiber content, but things like grapes and bananas have so much sugar it doesn’t matter. And juice eliminates the fiber that (I think?) could slow down sugar absorption by requiring more time to process.

    The Omega-3’s is an interesting facet of this. I’ve been taking fish oil for awhile now, and I don’t know how much difference it makes overall. I’ve heard that it can take awhile to see any results of increasing Omega-3’s.

    • Good point about the types of fruit. This is what’s known as glycemic index, which measures the time between eating a food and the peak blood sugar that results fro. eating it. Fruit juice has a very high glycemic index because it’s basically sugar water. Fruits that are high in fiber like cherries and cantaloupe have a relatively lower glycemic index. Every athlete knows that if you get hypoglycemic, eat a banana, because like you said they will give you an immediate blood sugar boost.

  3. Lulu, I’m so sorry to hear about your health issues. I’m glad you’re taking good care of yourself. Heart stuff is really scary.
    I’ve heard very good things about Co-Q for mental health and cardiac health. Glad to hear it helps you feel better.
    Go right ahead and use whatever you find helpful here on Canvas. I’m very bad at blogging these days, busy with a big remodelling project.
    One thing I just read in the medical literature, that I need to write a post about, is that NAC, which is N-acetyl cystine, has been found to be helpful in bipolar depression. Isn’t that good news! I’m going to try to write a post about that soon, but I wanted to let everybody who is following this thread know immediately.
    Take good care!


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