Too Much Sugar During Pregnancy Can Affect Children's Intelligence and Memory, but Fruit Could Help

A new study found that mothers consuming high amounts of sugar and sugar substitutes during pregnancy, or high sugar consumption during early childhood, was associated with compromised learning and memory skills in children. Alternately, high fruit consumption was found to have the opposite effect.

In a new study published online Thursday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 pregnant women from 1999 to 2002 who participated in Project Viva, a longitudinal research study of women and children. In addition, the team also assessed the diets of the women's subsequent offspring, and their cognition at age three and again at age seven. Results revealed that poorer childhood cognitive skills were associated with mothers who consumed high sugar diets during their pregnancy or in children who consumed greater amounts of sugar during early life. These cognitive deficits were most noted in non-verbal abilities to solve problems and verbal memory, as well as decreased intelligence.

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Diet soda consumption during pregnancy was also associated with poorer cognitive skills in children, suggesting that even sugar alternatives could have similar adverse effects. However, consumption of fructose and fruit in early childhood was associated with higher cognitive scores in several areas including receptive vocabulary. Fruit consumption was also associated with greater visual motor abilities in early childhood and verbal intelligence in mid-childhood. The same effect was not seen for consumption of fruit juice, however.

Too much sugar, as well as sugar alternatives, such as those found in diet sodas, may affect children's cognitive skills. Soda is poured into a glass. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Related: Drinking Soda As An Adolescent May Damage Memory

Although the reason for this connection is not yet clear, past research has shown the brain is one of the most energy demanding organs in the body, and glucose, a form of sugar, is used to fuel the brain. However, too much glucose has displayed adverse effects on the brain in animal studies. For example, a 2012 study showed that excess glucose consumption led to memory and cognition problems in animals. In addition diabetes, a condition characterized by the inability to regulate glucose levels, has been shown to induce early brain cell aging in humans, Harvard Medical School reported.

The new research further highlights the adverse effects that too much sugar in a diet can have on not just your brain, but that of your children as well.