The Impact of Free and Added Sugars on Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Kerri Gillespie, Melanie J. White, Eva Kemps, Halim Moore, Alexander Dymond, Selena Bartlett

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A relationship between excessive sugar consumption and cognitive function has been described in animal models, but the specific effects of sugars in humans remains unclear. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the current knowledge, research characteristics, and quality of evidence of studies investigating the impacts of free and added sugars on human cognition in healthy participants. The review identified 77 studies (65 experimental trials, n = 3831; 9 cross-sectional studies, n = 11,456; and 3 cohort studies, n = 2059). All cohort studies and eight of the nine cross-sectional studies found significant positive correlations between added sugar consumption and risk of cognitive impairment. Four studies identified reduced risk of cognitive impairment associated with natural fructose-containing foods. The majority of randomised control trials assessed short-term glucose facilitation effects on cognitive outcomes. The results from these studies suggest the need for a tightly regulated blood glucose level, dependent on individualised physiological factors, for optimal cognitive function. A meta-analysis of a subset of studies that assessed the impact of glucose on recall found improvements in immediate free recall compared to controls (p = 0.002). The findings highlight the potentially detrimental effect of excessive, long-term, or prenatal added sugar consumption on cognitive function. Further research is needed to examine the specific effects of free and added sugars on cognitive function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


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