Differential effects of fructose versus glucose on brain and appetitive responses to food cues and decisions for food rewards

Prior studies suggest that fructose compared with glucose may be a weaker suppressor of appetite, and neuroimaging research shows that food cues trigger greater brain reward responses in a fasted relative to a fed state. We sought to determine the effects of ingesting fructose versus glucose on brain, hormone, and appetitive responses to food cues and food-approach behavior. Twenty-four healthy volunteers underwent two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions with ingestion of either fructose or glucose in a double-blinded, random-order cross-over design. fMRI was performed while participants viewed images of high-calorie foods and nonfood items using a block design. After each block, participants rated hunger and desire for food. Participants also performed a decision task in which they chose between immediate food rewards and delayed monetary bonuses. Hormones were measured at baseline and 30 and 60 min after drink ingestion. Ingestion of fructose relative to glucose resulted in smaller increases in plasma insulin levels and greater brain reactivity to food cues in the visual cortex (in whole-brain analysis) and left orbital frontal cortex (in region-of-interest analysis). Parallel to the neuroimaging findings, fructose versus glucose led to greater hunger and desire for food and a greater willingness to give up long-term monetary rewards to obtain immediate high-calorie foods. These findings suggest that ingestion of fructose relative to glucose results in greater activation of brain regions involved in attention and reward processing and may promote feeding behavior.

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