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Metabolic fuel, hormones and mental performance: from benefit to damage

Dr Sandra Sunram-Lea, Psychology

Tuesday 14 December 2010, 1425-1450
Lecture Theatre 3, Management School Building

Over the past decades, there has been increasing interest in the neurochemical regulation of cognition. This field received considerable attention in the 1980's with the identification of possible cognition enhancing agents or 'smart drugs'. Even though many of the optimistic claims for some agents have proven premature, considerable progress has been made in recent years in characterizing biological systems and processes underlying the regulation of cognition.

Latest evidence obtained in our laboratory suggests that metabolic agents may prove to be effective in improving and preserving cognitive performance and may lead to better cognitive aging through the lifespan. Glucose is the brain's principal metabolic fuel. Therefore, it is not surprising that transiently increasing blood glucose levels improves cognitive performance. Conversely, chronically high levels of blood glucose, as seen in diabetes, may increase the risk for cognitive impairments, especially in older adults. In this talk I will present a series of studies exploring the role of glucose on cognitive performance.

Gaining more in-depth understanding of the major metabolic components of cognition, and more specifically how glucose levels affect cognition, will not only provide a better framework for understanding the neurobiology of cognitive processes, but also increase our knowledge concerning the effects of abnormalities in brain glucose/energy metabolism on cognition, both in adults and in children. The interaction between nutrition and behaviour is currently very much on the public agenda. Nutritional interventions aimed at the maintenance of good glucose regulation may aid preservation of cognitive performance - something of increasing concern to most "ageing" societies.