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In a new study, a team of researchers found that feeding rats soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi did enough damage to the hapless critters’ brains to cause memory problems, cognitive impairment and cellular problems.
Of course, soda is not really considered a health food. It’s full of sweeteners, real and fake, and studies around the world have confirmed that sugars like those in soft drinks lead to health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and liver complications, to name a few.
But according to the new research, consistent, long-term consumption of cola-based sugary soft drinks may also be directly linked to brain health and behavioral problems — and apparently the inability to navigate your way through a maze. (If you’re a rat, that is.)
To study how cola-based soft drinks — which were chosen for research because of their prevalence in many modern human diets — might affect the brains of rats, the scientists first divided the rats into three age groups: 2 months, 8 months, and children. of 14 months. Each of those age groups was then split into cohorts drinking water and cohorts drinking cola and water.
After 57 days, the scientists put the rodents through a series of maze-based behavioral tests, and ten days after that, the rats were euthanized so that the scientists could then examine any differences in their brains.
On examination, the water-drinking rodents were okay. The soda drinkers? Not so much.
During the behavioral tests, the scientists found that most soda drinkers, particularly the 2- and 8-month-olds, had poorer memories and generally lower cognitive function than their purist counterparts — causing serious problems when they tried around those damn mazes.
Poor guys. But given what the scientists discovered when they opened the creatures’ skulls, that’s not very surprising.
A closer look at the rattos’ brains confirmed that the soda groups all had varying degrees of damage to the frontal cortex, which controls vital mental functions such as attention, memory and judgment, as well as the hippocampus, which plays an important role in both memory and judgment. to learn.
Neurological damage is never a positive thing. But honestly, not being able to find their way through mazes might have been the rats’ least problem, had they survived. In humans, damage to the frontal cortex has also been linked to personality changes and over-impulsivity, while injury to the hippocampus is thought to play an important role in diseases such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more.
It is important to remember that this study is based on long-term exposure. If a rat barely drank Coke—perhaps just ordering the occasional glass with dinner—it would probably be fine, a probability supported by the fact that the oldest rats, whose brains were most fully formed, had the least were affected by soft drink rations. But a rat who drinks Coke or Pepsi every day… well, that’s another story.
It’s also important to point out that rats are not humans, so we can’t recommend the CDC update its recommendations just yet. But given everything people have learned about sugary soft drinks over the years, we wouldn’t be surprised if Coke cans have some additional label warnings soon.
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