RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The amount of sugar in your blood could be a key factor in the decisions your brain makes, according to new research. While previous studies have linked blood glucose levels to how we process our thoughts, new research out of the University of South Dakota suggests low glucose levels could be related to lack of self-control and impulsive decision making. The good news is that improving concentration could be as easy as knowing what to eat and drink—and what not to—when it's decision time.
THE DETAILS: Researchers investigated how blood sugar (glucose) levels affect a person's self-control, specifically how people thought about immediate versus future rewards. Participants were asked questions to determine if they would prefer to get a smaller amount of money right away (indicating a lack of self-control) or a larger sum of money later on. Researchers tested blood glucose levels, and asked the questions, before and after the participants drank either a regular sugar-sweetened soda or a sugar-free, artificially sweetened diet soda. The sugar-free soda drinkers were more likely to choose the immediate reward, even though it was less money and not the best overall decision. The results indicate that when people have more energy available—as evidenced by the levels of glucose in their blood—they are more future-oriented. On the other hand, having low energy or low blood glucose levels may make a person focus on the present. In fact, the authors go on to say that artificial sweeteners may signal to the body that there's an imminent caloric crisis, leading to increased impulsivity. If this is true, controlling blood glucose levels could offer a possible intervention for impulsive disorders, anorexia, and drug and gambling addictions. The take-home message for general readers is three-fold, says study author XT Wang, PhD, professor of psychology at University of South Dakota."First blood glucose may strengthen self-control by making future rewards more attractive and reduce impulsivity. Second, our body can detect artificial sweetener in a diet soda and react to this 'energy crisis' by grabbing immediate resources available and discounting delayed rewards," he explains. "Third, carefully regulating blood sugar and avoiding sharp fluctuations might be a means of treatment for a range of impulsive disorders, including addictions."
The study was published this month in the journal Psychological Science.