Factors affecting glucose enhancement of cognitive performance View Homepage


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Grant Info

YEARS

2006-2009

FUNDING AMOUNT

162967 GBP

ABSTRACT

The brain is easily the most energetic organ in the human body. Contributing only two percent to the average person's weight, it is constantly burning away some twenty percent of the body's energy. The energy supply of the body originates from oxygen (breathed in from the air) and glucose (from food). These circulate in the blood until they are delivered to active tissue for immediate use, alternatively glucose may be stored for later use. Unfortunately the brain has a fairly serious design fault. Despite requiring more than its fair share of energy, it cannot store glucose. This means that it relies on a constant supply of glucose through its rich blood supply. We know that mental performance is impaired if the availability of glucose is restricted. Individuals with diabetes (an inability to utilise glucose) report difficulties in concentration and memory when they are 'hypo' (hypoglycaemic or in a state of low blood glucose). Inducing low blood glucose levels in the laboratory in healthy individuals produces similar psychological effects to diabetes. The day-to-day lapses in concentration and memory which occur with ageing have also been attributed by some to problems with the delivery of glucose to the brain. This begs the question of whether increasing the levels of glucose could have beneficial effects on mental function. Generally speaking, individuals given a drink containing 25 or 50 grams of glucose perform better on tasks measuring mental function than those given a placebo ( a sweet drink without glucose). The effect seems most pronounced where there is 'room for improvement' - for example in the elderly. But similar, less dramatic results have been demonstrated in healthy young adults. However there is some argument as to how and why glucose improves mental function. In particular there is a 'domain-demand' debate amongst some researchers. Those in the 'domain' camp claim that glucose has its greatest effects on memory (as opposed to other mental functions like reaction times or concentration). Such processes rely on a brain area called the hippocampus. The cells of the hippocampus seem to be designed to be particularly sensitive to the effects of glucose. The hippocampus 'lights up' during brain scans when people learn new material and people with damage to this area can't form new memories. Those on the 'demand' side of the argument claim that the brain acts a bit like a muscle. The evidence for this argument comes from studies showing that if you work the brain hard enough (by giving people difficult mental tasks), levels of blood glucose drop. So the bodily processes which are involved might be depleted of energy by intense mental activity and replenished by a glucose drink. Such tasks should benefit from extra glucose no matter what type of mental function is being tested. Of the two laboratories who are proposing this work Dr. Sunram-Lea's group favour the 'domain' hypothesis while Professor Scholey's group prefer the 'demand' hypothesis. This proposal from the two groups is aimed at resolving the argument one way or the other (although the results may suggest that the answer is a combination of the two theories). The specific experiments include the following. Firstly we will the effects of a glucose drink on types of memory which don't rely on the hippocampus (for example when learning something without being conscious of doing so, or when recognising something you've already learned rather than having to deliberately recall it). Secondly, we will test the effects of whether performing an additional task while learning material helps the glucose effect and if so why. Thirdly, we will examine the effects of glucose on tasks which don't rely on memory, in this case a test of selective attention. Finally we will study the effects of glucose on younger and older people on the tests which prove to be the most sensitive in these experiments and determine how these relate to the control of blood glucose. Technical Summary The notion that nutritional interventions can modulate behaviour is not new and is currently very much on the public agenda. However naturalistic investigations in this area are fraught with difficulties. Dietary habits are influenced by many factors including phenotype, lifestyle and socio-economic status. One approach with more immediately attainable goals is to examine the potential acute behavioural effects of simple macronutrients. Using the latter approach over the past two decades research on glucose has proved fruitful both within the UK and elsewhere. The general finding is that improved cognitive performance is observed in the minutes and hours following administration of a 25 or 50g glucose drink. The proposed programme aims to disentangle the neurocognitive domains and processes targeted by glucose and to explore the nature of changes in blood glucose in relation to the phenomenon. One conclusion from the findings in this field is that glucose preferentially enhances performance on hippocampally-driven declarative long-term memory (LTM), an interpretation favoured by Sunram-Lea's group. Nevertheless studies into non-memory functions have also reported glucose facilitation of function. Thus an alternative proposal, favoured by Scholey and Kennedy, is that glucose preferentially targets tasks which require a relatively high level of mental effort. We have preliminary evidence that both factors may contribute to the effect and one aim of this programme is to further explore this issue. The three above-named scientists have considerable experience in this field and have designed a study programme aimed at disentangling whether cognitive 'domain' (i.e. hippocampally-driven declarative LTM) or 'demand' (level of mental effort associated with task performance) is the more important factor in the glucose enhancement effect. All experiments will utilise double-blind, placebo-controlled methodology, comparing the effects of 25g glucose with a matching placebo drink. In all experiments blood glucose levels will be co-monitored in order to determine the relationship between changing blood glucose levels and performance. In experiments 3, 4 and 5 cortisol will be co-monitored in order to explore relationships between individual stress responses, glucose levels and performance (both in the presence and absence of a glucose load). Experiment 5 will also include measures of HbA1c, insulin and glucagon in order to disentangle the impact of glucoregulation on the glucose enhancement effect. Experiments 1 and 2 will assess the impact of a 25g glucose drink on hippocampal and non-hippocampal memory performance both in the presence and absence of a secondary task (using implicit/explicit memory and the 'remember-know' paradigm respectively). Experiment 3 will further probe the nature of the influence of mental effort. Here we will assess the effects of glucose on memory in the presence of either secondary tasks or an experimental psychological stressor. Experiment 4 is designed to determine the effects of a glucose load on high and low mental effort using the Stroop task - a test of selective attention with no hippocampal memory component. It is known that control of glucoregulation can become compromised with age and may contribute to age-related cognitive decline. Experiment 5 will assess the effects of glucoregulation and glucose administration upon the most glucose-sensitive tasks from the preceding series in younger and older individuals. Taken together this programme of work will enhance our understanding of the neurocognitive structures and physiological processes involved in the glucose enhancement of memory effect. It will provide a framework to study the effects of other macronutrients and may be applied to more naturalistic nutritional interventions. The work will therefore have the potential to greatly enhance the emerging disciplines dedicated to the study of the nutrition-behaviour axis. More... »

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Inducing low blood glucose levels in the laboratory in healthy individuals produces similar psychological effects to diabetes. The day-to-day lapses in concentration and memory which occur with ageing have also been attributed by some to problems with the delivery of glucose to the brain. This begs the question of whether increasing the levels of glucose could have beneficial effects on mental function. Generally speaking, individuals given a drink containing 25 or 50 grams of glucose perform better on tasks measuring mental function than those given a placebo ( a sweet drink without glucose). The effect seems most pronounced where there is 'room for improvement' - for example in the elderly. But similar, less dramatic results have been demonstrated in healthy young adults. However there is some argument as to how and why glucose improves mental function. In particular there is a 'domain-demand' debate amongst some researchers. Those in the 'domain' camp claim that glucose has its greatest effects on memory (as opposed to other mental functions like reaction times or concentration). Such processes rely on a brain area called the hippocampus. The cells of the hippocampus seem to be designed to be particularly sensitive to the effects of glucose. The hippocampus 'lights up' during brain scans when people learn new material and people with damage to this area can't form new memories. Those on the 'demand' side of the argument claim that the brain acts a bit like a muscle. The evidence for this argument comes from studies showing that if you work the brain hard enough (by giving people difficult mental tasks), levels of blood glucose drop. So the bodily processes which are involved might be depleted of energy by intense mental activity and replenished by a glucose drink. Such tasks should benefit from extra glucose no matter what type of mental function is being tested. Of the two laboratories who are proposing this work Dr. Sunram-Lea's group favour the 'domain' hypothesis while Professor Scholey's group prefer the 'demand' hypothesis. This proposal from the two groups is aimed at resolving the argument one way or the other (although the results may suggest that the answer is a combination of the two theories). The specific experiments include the following. Firstly we will the effects of a glucose drink on types of memory which don't rely on the hippocampus (for example when learning something without being conscious of doing so, or when recognising something you've already learned rather than having to deliberately recall it). Secondly, we will test the effects of whether performing an additional task while learning material helps the glucose effect and if so why. Thirdly, we will examine the effects of glucose on tasks which don't rely on memory, in this case a test of selective attention. 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The proposed programme aims to disentangle the neurocognitive domains and processes targeted by glucose and to explore the nature of changes in blood glucose in relation to the phenomenon. One conclusion from the findings in this field is that glucose preferentially enhances performance on hippocampally-driven declarative long-term memory (LTM), an interpretation favoured by Sunram-Lea's group. Nevertheless studies into non-memory functions have also reported glucose facilitation of function. Thus an alternative proposal, favoured by Scholey and Kennedy, is that glucose preferentially targets tasks which require a relatively high level of mental effort. We have preliminary evidence that both factors may contribute to the effect and one aim of this programme is to further explore this issue. The three above-named scientists have considerable experience in this field and have designed a study programme aimed at disentangling whether cognitive 'domain' (i.e. hippocampally-driven declarative LTM) or 'demand' (level of mental effort associated with task performance) is the more important factor in the glucose enhancement effect. All experiments will utilise double-blind, placebo-controlled methodology, comparing the effects of 25g glucose with a matching placebo drink. In all experiments blood glucose levels will be co-monitored in order to determine the relationship between changing blood glucose levels and performance. In experiments 3, 4 and 5 cortisol will be co-monitored in order to explore relationships between individual stress responses, glucose levels and performance (both in the presence and absence of a glucose load). Experiment 5 will also include measures of HbA1c, insulin and glucagon in order to disentangle the impact of glucoregulation on the glucose enhancement effect. Experiments 1 and 2 will assess the impact of a 25g glucose drink on hippocampal and non-hippocampal memory performance both in the presence and absence of a secondary task (using implicit/explicit memory and the 'remember-know' paradigm respectively). Experiment 3 will further probe the nature of the influence of mental effort. Here we will assess the effects of glucose on memory in the presence of either secondary tasks or an experimental psychological stressor. Experiment 4 is designed to determine the effects of a glucose load on high and low mental effort using the Stroop task - a test of selective attention with no hippocampal memory component. It is known that control of glucoregulation can become compromised with age and may contribute to age-related cognitive decline. 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Of the two laboratories who are proposing this work Dr. Sunram-Lea's group favour the 'domain' hypothesis while Professor Scholey's group prefer the 'demand' hypothesis. This proposal from the two groups is aimed at resolving the argument one way or the other (although the results may suggest that the answer is a combination of the two theories). The specific experiments include the following. Firstly we will the effects of a glucose drink on types of memory which don't rely on the hippocampus (for example when learning something without being conscious of doing so, or when recognising something you've already learned rather than having to deliberately recall it). Secondly, we will test the effects of whether performing an additional task while learning material helps the glucose effect and if so why. Thirdly, we will examine the effects of glucose on tasks which don't rely on memory, in this case a test of selective attention. Finally we will study the effects of glucose on younger and older people on the tests which prove to be the most sensitive in these experiments and determine how these relate to the control of blood glucose. Technical Summary The notion that nutritional interventions can modulate behaviour is not new and is currently very much on the public agenda. However naturalistic investigations in this area are fraught with difficulties. Dietary habits are influenced by many factors including phenotype, lifestyle and socio-economic status. One approach with more immediately attainable goals is to examine the potential acute behavioural effects of simple macronutrients. Using the latter approach over the past two decades research on glucose has proved fruitful both within the UK and elsewhere. The general finding is that improved cognitive performance is observed in the minutes and hours following administration of a 25 or 50g glucose drink. The proposed programme aims to disentangle the neurocognitive domains and processes targeted by glucose and to explore the nature of changes in blood glucose in relation to the phenomenon. One conclusion from the findings in this field is that glucose preferentially enhances performance on hippocampally-driven declarative long-term memory (LTM), an interpretation favoured by Sunram-Lea's group. Nevertheless studies into non-memory functions have also reported glucose facilitation of function. Thus an alternative proposal, favoured by Scholey and Kennedy, is that glucose preferentially targets tasks which require a relatively high level of mental effort. We have preliminary evidence that both factors may contribute to the effect and one aim of this programme is to further explore this issue. The three above-named scientists have considerable experience in this field and have designed a study programme aimed at disentangling whether cognitive 'domain' (i.e. hippocampally-driven declarative LTM) or 'demand' (level of mental effort associated with task performance) is the more important factor in the glucose enhancement effect. All experiments will utilise double-blind, placebo-controlled methodology, comparing the effects of 25g glucose with a matching placebo drink. In all experiments blood glucose levels will be co-monitored in order to determine the relationship between changing blood glucose levels and performance. In experiments 3, 4 and 5 cortisol will be co-monitored in order to explore relationships between individual stress responses, glucose levels and performance (both in the presence and absence of a glucose load). Experiment 5 will also include measures of HbA1c, insulin and glucagon in order to disentangle the impact of glucoregulation on the glucose enhancement effect. Experiments 1 and 2 will assess the impact of a 25g glucose drink on hippocampal and non-hippocampal memory performance both in the presence and absence of a secondary task (using implicit/explicit memory and the 'remember-know' paradigm respectively). Experiment 3 will further probe the nature of the influence of mental effort. Here we will assess the effects of glucose on memory in the presence of either secondary tasks or an experimental psychological stressor. Experiment 4 is designed to determine the effects of a glucose load on high and low mental effort using the Stroop task - a test of selective attention with no hippocampal memory component. It is known that control of glucoregulation can become compromised with age and may contribute to age-related cognitive decline. Experiment 5 will assess the effects of glucoregulation and glucose administration upon the most glucose-sensitive tasks from the preceding series in younger and older individuals. Taken together this programme of work will enhance our understanding of the neurocognitive structures and physiological processes involved in the glucose enhancement of memory effect. It will provide a framework to study the effects of other macronutrients and may be applied to more naturalistic nutritional interventions. The work will therefore have the potential to greatly enhance the emerging disciplines dedicated to the study of the nutrition-behaviour axis.
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108 glucose enhancement
109 glucose enhancement effect
110 glucose facilitation
111 glucose levels
112 glucose load
113 glucose perform
114 gram
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116 groups
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118 healthy young adults
119 high levels
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122 hours
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131 inability
132 individual stress responses
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141 levels
142 lifestyle
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155 minutes
156 most glucose-sensitive tasks
157 muscle
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161 neurocognitive domains
162 neurocognitive structure
163 new materials
164 new memories
165 non-hippocampal memory performance
166 non-memory functions
167 notion
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169 nutritional intervention
170 older individuals
171 older people
172 order
173 other macronutrients
174 other mental functions
175 oxygen
176 paradigm
177 people
178 percent
179 performance
180 phenomenon
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183 placebo
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185 potential
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195 reaction time
196 relation
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201 rich blood supply
202 room
203 scientists
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206 series
207 serious design fault
208 side
209 similar psychological effects
210 simple macronutrients
211 socio-economic status
212 something
213 specific experiments
214 state
215 study
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217 such processes
218 such tasks
219 sweet drinks
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224 theory
225 type
226 understanding
227 use
228 work
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