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The Scary Truth About Diabetes And How It's Affecting Your Brain

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ve probably had some concerned or nagging soul warn you: “You’re going to give yourself diabetes if you keep eating like that.” 

Hopefully the statement was more kidding than not, but it is founded in fact. A diet high in sugars and starches can cause “insulin resistance,” which in turn leads to Diabetes. 

But research shows that there’s something else for sugar fiends to worry about. As strange as it may sound, those of us who consume more than our daily allowances of glucose (i.e., starches and sugars) actually might be eating our way to Alzheimer’s disease. 

This Is Your Brain On Doughnuts

Much of our understanding of the link between high blood sugar (and Diabetes) and Alzheimer’s Disease comes from an article published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.1 The piece, titled simply, “Alzheimer’s Disease is Type 3 Diabetes,” concludes that there exists a definitive link between type 2 diabetes (caused by unhealthy dieting) and Alzheimer’s. 

To understand why this is the case, we need to understand what happens in the body when we eat sugar (known in nutrition and biology as glucose). 

The body releases insulin, a metabolic hormone that helps absorb glucose. This helps cells store the energy from insulin for later. But when too much glucose is consumed and insulin is released, the cells tamper their response to the hormone. The pancreas responds by releasing even more insulin, and the cells in turn lower their response even more. This cycle of insulin resistance can lead to permanently elevated blood sugar levels – type II Diabetes.

The brain, which needs glucose as much as any other muscle, does not need insulin to absorb the sugars. As a result, the glucose levels in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain is always around 60 percent of the glucose levels in your bloodstream.2 So, high blood sugar means high brain sugar too. 

Without sufficient insulin, the brain will absorb glucose, but it won’t be able to process it for fuel. This means that brain cells in people with insulin resistance begin starving. The brain cells to die first are those that require the most energy. Unfortunately, those happen to be cells in charge of memory, located in the hippocampus. In fact, by the time we notice mild cognitive impairment, the hippocampus has shrunk by as much as 10 percent.3 

Is Brain Diabetes The Next Epidemic?

The link is between Diabetes and cognitive decline is so strong, that 8 in 10 Alzheimer’s patients also suffer from insulin resistance.4 In light of this finding, it only makes sense that Alzheimer’s is now being called type 3 Diabetes.

You might not think this applies to you, but more than half of Americans are insulin resistant.5 On the go, preparing meals for little ones, or just looking to eat cheap, it can be hard to avoid processed foods that are high in sugar.

If you’re eating more than the recommended 25 to 50 grams of sugar a day, it might be time to start thinking about making some dietary changes. Dieticians recommend not worrying about anything with natural sugars (like fruits) and instead focusing on reducing added sugars. It’s especially important to check the nutrition labels of foods that are low-fat, since manufacturers often make up for lost flavor with sugar.6

We hope that this reading has given you one more reason to keep a clean diet. Remember: drowning your brain in sweets results in more than just a sugar crash.

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References:

1. de la Monte, Suzanne M. and Jack R. Wands. "Alzheimer's Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes—Evidence Reviewed". National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

2. "Relationship Between Cerebrospinal Fluid Glucose And Serum Glucose — NEJM". New England Journal of Medicine.

3. Du, A T et al. "Magnetic Resonance Imaging Of The Entorhinal Cortex And Hippocampus In Mild Cognitive Impairment And Alzheimer's Disease". National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

4. Kim, Bhumsoo and Eva L Feldman. "Insulin Resistance As A Key Link For The Increased Risk Of Cognitive Impairment In The Metabolic Syndrome". National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

5. Menke, Andy et al. "Prevalence Of And Trends In Diabetes Among Adults In The United States, 1988-2012". The JAMA Network.

6. Leonhardt, David. "How Much Sugar Can You Avoid Today?". Nytimes.com.

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