When you were a kid you may recall yourself stuffing bars of chocolate in your mouth, gnawing on colorful balls of bubblegum with your mother yelling at you to “stop eating so much candy!” You probably grew up with the assumption that “too much sugar made you dumb” along with the widely renowned fact that too much sugar made your teeth weak and useless. Sadly, the fact that consuming an excessive amount of candy can cause your teeth to rot is inescapable, however, not all sugar makes you “dumb.”
A certain type of sugar can actually make your brain more efficient and alert in stressful situations: glucose. The brain runs off glucose. An experiment conducted by Ewan McNay at the University at Albany in 2006 supported the conclusion that systemic glucose administration can enhance memory, results varying in response to stress level.
In this project, 3 month old, male rats were incubated in a dark Plexiglass container on a 12:12 light-dark cycle. The rats were injected with glucose-morphine and placed in the center of a four arm maze and were free to wander for twenty minutes. The rats used spatial working memory to retain memory of the arms of the maze. The control group showed that extracellular fluid (ECF) glucose levels dropped 30%-40% during the task, however the group that were injected with the glucose-morphine had constant levels of ECF glucose through the task.
The results concluded that differences in extracellular fluid (ECF) glucose within the hippocampus reflect changes in demand for glucose as a substrate for processes that are directly linked to cognitive processes. It was also concluded that glucose administration would lead to the improvement of memory of the task at hand and prevent the lowering of ECF glucose levels which means the brain can work at an efficient pace. The same experiment was conducted using a three-arm maze and glucose levels did not decrease nearly as much, and glucose was not needed to make up for the decrease in ECF glucose levels. This suggests that glucose enhances memory when in particularly stressful situations.
This polysaccharide can be found in products like Gatorade and will enable you to focus on the task at hand, especially if it’s a stressful one. However, do not kid yourself into thinking that chugging a gallon of Gatorade will save you from studying for your physics midterm. The glucose in the Gatorade is merely for keeping the brain alert and active and will, but it will not make up for not studying a whole semester of material.