A recent study from the behavioral neuropharmacology lab at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has shown that sugary drinks can lead to changes in the brain composition of rats that have been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have established that drinking sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes, and an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Drinking sugary drinks has even led to 184,000 deaths per year, according to Gitanjali Singh of Harvard University.  However, the effects of sugary drinks on the brain have received much less attention.

Under her assumption “we know that soft drinks are bad for the body, so it’s reasonable to assume that they aren’t doing anything good for your brain, either,” Jane Franklin worked with colleague Jennifer Cornish to determine if sugary drinks had any effects on brain composition.

Franklin and Cornish gave 24 adult rats either water or a water solution containing 10% sugar, the equivalent of 1 can of soda, for 26 days. They, then, studied the proteins found in the rats’ orbital frontal cortex, or the part of the brain that sits behind the eyes. Out of the 1,373 proteins identified in both sets of rats, the rats that drank the sugary water had 290 altered proteins. Just under half of these altered proteins are involved in cellular function of the brain, including cellular lifespan, communication, and DNA repair. Thirty percent of these altered proteins are linked to conditions, like cancer, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

The effects of the altered proteins are significantly more prevalent than in similar analysis of caffeine in other areas of the brain. These results show that sugar exposure has the potential to play a large role in neurological disorders, but more research needs to be done to determine if the sugary drinks are causing these neurological disorders.

Even if sugary drinks are not the cause of these neurological disorders, knowing there might be a correlation is reason enough to switch to filtered water!