Food Pharmacy

New study confirms: Alzheimer’s disease may be a form of diabetes

Here we go again: new research has linked Alzheimer’s disease to high blood sugar. This time, scientists looked deep into the brain and discovered that cells, when suffering from dementia, have difficulty extracting energy from their main nutritional source: glucose.

Five years ago, when I wrote My Sweet Heart, I was surprised by all the research that had shown that high blood sugar increases the risk of dementia. For example, according to one study, eight out of ten people with Alzheimer’s disease have had problems controlling their blood sugar – twice as many as in the control group. A survey of older people in Stockholm, Sweden, shows that pre-diabetes and diabetes multiply the risk of dementia, and that this condition develops much faster for those who have had difficulty maintaining stable blood sugar levels.

Some researchers have even suggested calling dementia type 3 diabetes. Research done on the brains of recently-deceased Alzheimer’s patients has revealed that those patients’ brain tissues react poorly to the blood-sugar-lowering hormone insulin (which is very bad, because insulin is needed to store memories).

Alzheimer’s goes hand in hand with diabetes

Why don’t doctors talk about this more often? I wondered that myself while writing the book. I’m still wondering, and meanwhile the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s is a form of diabetes (or goes hand in hand with type 2 diabetes) has only grown stronger and stronger. Studies have confirmed that the disease progresses more quickly in patients with high blood sugar. Researchers have used blood samples to measure insulin resistance in the brain, and have been able to predict the development of dementia. Both adolescents suffering from obesity and people who have a higher insulin-resistance have been shown to have higher levels of those substances that are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s in their blood.

Read the last sentence again. Let it sink in before moving on to the news of the week.

New Study: People with Alzheimer’s disease also have high blood-sugar levels in the brain

This time, researchers have once again dissected brain tissue from people with dementia and found that higher brain glucose levels may mean more severe Alzheimer’s. Their results:

  1. The higher the level of blood sugar found in the brain, the worse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s before death.
  2. Brain cells often have difficulty breaking down and extracting energy from the sugar glucose, which is the brain’s primary source of energy.
  3. High blood-sugar in the brain is correlated with the patient having generally high blood-sugar levels many years before dying.

So what conclusions can we draw from this knowledge? Well, I think that people who appreciate their brain should be safe rather than sorry and keep their blood sugar at a low and stable level. Here are some simple tricks to help  with that:

  1. If you suffer from type 2 diabetes: measure your blood sugar after eating and learn what raises it. Try to eat food that maintains blood sugar at low and steady level.
  2. Call your neighbor and ask them out for a walk; that exercise by itself is enough to help lower blood sugar. (Lisa, what about tonight?)
  3. Think: dementia, dementia, dementia, whenever the sweet tooth calls you. Eat nuts or almonds instead.
  4. If you haven’t already done so: eliminate fast and white carbohydrates, (such as sugar and flour) from your life. At least 335 of the days of the year. Instead, explore the vast expanse of the vegetable section at your local supermarket. Have you tried palm cabbage, for example?
  5. Learn from Patrik Olsson and make a bean salad for dinner. My favorite: black beans, red onions, lime, cilantro (lots), chopped jalapeño, olive oil and a little salt.

That’s how you make it easier for your brain to live happily ever after.

Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se and has written the best-selling book My Sweet Heart. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.


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