The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 19 No. 6 • July 2016


THE BRAIN REQUIRES GLUCOSE FOR SELF-CONTROL

A 2007 paper reports on the advantages that having good self-control gives a person. As the paper (Gailliot, 2007) explains, prior evidence has amply shown that good self-control leads to such desirable outcomes as “healthier interpersonal relationships, greater popularity, better mental health, more effective coping skills, reduced aggression, and superior academic performance...” Other benefits they mention include reduced susceptibility to addictive drugs and to eating disorders.

The authors explained that in order for the brain to exert self-control, it requires the expenditure of energy, a lot of energy, in the form of glucose (the brain’s major source of energy). In fact, they report that a SINGLE act of self-control reduces the ability of an individual to perform a subsequent act of self-control. They describe a study in which participants had to resist eating freshly baked cookies and later, it found, those subjects who did resist were less able to persist in a task which also required self-control. The paper (Gailliot, 2007) also provided references to several other studies of limits to self-control after another act of self-control, that included control of prejudicial behavior, coping with fears of death, controlling spending, controlling one’s temper, and limiting alcohol intake.

The researchers (Gailliot, 2007) then showed that a deficiency of glucose was the cause of the reduced self-control that followed a prior act of self-control by treating some of the participants with a glucose drink after their initial task of self-control. “Even though nearly all of the brain’s activities consume some glucose, most cognitive processes are relatively unaffected by subtle or minor fluctuations in glucose levels within the normal or healthy range. Controlled, effortful processes that rely on executive function, however, are unlike most other cognitive processes in that they seem highly susceptible to normal fluctuations in glucose.” An example of such an effortful process relying on higher cognitive areas that use a lot of energy is the struggle for self-control that addicts engage in when they try to resist the urge to take drugs. It is interesting to note that a dose of sugar can temporarily overcome that urge. It is, in fact, a common anecdotal suggestion for those trying to “kick the habit” (whether for cigarettes or something else) to consume sugar for temporary relief.

In conclusion, the authors note that “...despite our manipulations, we do not intend to advocate consuming large quantities of sugar as an ideal strategy for improving self-control.” We wouldn’t either, but see next paragraph for a different approach.

We wonder how these experiments would have worked out if the subjects had been given C-8 MCT OIL as an alternative energy source, rather than glucose. It seems to us that this would make a meaningful experiment and we do think that prior evidence supports the idea that the C-8 MCT OIL could similarly support the energy requirements for self-control without promoting an insulin surge that would lower subsequent blood glucose levels.

Reference

Gailliot, Baumeister, et al. Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. J Pers Soc Psychol. 92(2):325-36 (2007).

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