Habitual sugar intake and cognitive impairment among multi-ethnic Malaysian older adults

Clin Interv Aging. 2019 Jul 22:14:1331-1342. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S211534. eCollection 2019.


Background: Sugar is widely consumed in Malaysia, and the excessive intake of sugar has been associated with cognitive functions. However, the association between sugar intake and cognitive impairment among Malaysian older adults is yet to be determined. Purpose: The objective of this study was to evaluate the associations between types and sources of sugar intake and cognitive functions and to identify their risk in predicting cognitive impairment (MMSE score <24). Subjects and methods: A total of 1,209 subjects aged ≥60 years were recruited through multi-stage random sampling from selected states in Malaysia. Dietary intake was derived using a 7-day dietary history questionnaire and supplemented with a quantitative food frequency questionnaire for added sugar intake. Results: The prevalence of cognitive impairment as defined by Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) less than 24 was 31.9%, while the prevalence of mild cognitive impairment was 13.1%. The median (IQR) for total sugar intake was 44.60 g/day (26.21-68.81) or 8 tsp, and free sugar intake was 33.08 g/day (17.48-57.26) or 6 tsp. The higher intake of total sugars, free sugars, sucrose, lactose, sugar-sweetened beverages, sugar-sweetened cakes, and dessert was found to be significantly associated with a lower MMSE score, after adjusting for covariates. On the other hand, the consumption of cooked dishes and fruits was significantly associated with a better MMSE score. The adjusted OR for risk of cognitive impairment (MMSE score <24) was 3.30 (95% CI 2.15-5.08) for total sugars and 3.58 (95% CI 2.32-5.52) for free sugars, comparing the highest with the lowest intake percentiles. Conclusion: Excessive sugar consumption among older adults showed a notable association with poor cognitive functions, but longitudinal studies and clinical trials are further needed to clarify the direction of causality and to investigate the underlying mechanism.

Keywords: cognitive functions; free sugar; older adults; sucrose; sugar intake.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Beverages
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / ethnology*
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malaysia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Dietary Sucrose