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Study shows protein, not sugar, keeps the brain alert

Every office I've worked in has included a "candy drawer," a well stocked arsenal of chocolate bars, lollipops and other treats used in launching a sugar-rush to combat afternoon sluggishness. But new research suggests my colleagues and I would be more successful in countering mid-afternoon sleepiness if we skipped the sugar-laden goodies in favor of protein-rich snacks.

In the study, University of Cambridge researchers examined what types of dietary nutrients influenced the orexin cells in the brain, which send electrical signals that stimulate wakefulness and tell the body to use up energy. Boston.com reports:

Orexin cells secrete an important stimulant in the brain called orexin/hypocretin. When the body doesn't have enough, it can lead to narcolepsy and weight gain. After comparing how different nutrients affect these cells, researchers found that amino acids -- which are found in proteins like egg whites -- stimulate the orexin neurons more than others while glucose lowers their activity.

Moreover, the amino acids also worked by preventing glucose from blocking the activity of orexin cells. In other words, the amino acids worked as a defensive shield against the sugar's offensive assault.

The new findings may explain why protein-rich meals can make people feel less calm and more alert than carbohydrate-heavy meals, researchers added.

Previously: Sucrose-craving rats shed light on neural pathways responsible for addiction
Photo by s58y

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