Glucose, memory, and aging

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


Circulating glucose concentrations regulate many brain functions, including learning and memory. Much of the evidence for this view comes from experiments assessing stress-related release of epinephrine with subsequent increases in blood glucose concentrations. One application of this work has been to investigate whether age-related memory impairments result from dysfunctions in the neuroendocrine regulation of the brain processes responsible for memory. Like humans, aged rodents exhibit some memory impairments that can be reversed by administration of epinephrine or glucose. In elderly humans, ingestion of glucose enhances some cognitive functions, with effects best documented thus far on tests of verbal contextual and noncontextual information. Glucose also effectively enhances cognition in persons with Alzheimer disease or Down syndrome. Although earlier evidence suggested that glucose does not enhance cognitive function in healthy young adults, more recent findings suggest that glucose is effective in this population, provided the tests are sufficiently difficult. In college students, glucose consumption significantly enhanced memory of material in a paragraph. Glucose also appeared to enhance attentional processes in these students. Neither face and word recognition nor working memory was influenced by treatment with glucose. The neurobiological mechanisms by which glucose acts are under current investigation. Initial evidence suggests that glucose or a metabolite may activate release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in rats when they are engaged in learning. Consequently, the issue of nutrition and cognition becomes increasingly important in light of evidence that circulating glucose concentrations have substantial effects on brain and cognitive functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764S-771S
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetylcholine
  • Aging
  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Rats
  • Task difficulty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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