It would be too easy to simmer the development of Alzheimer’s and other dementias down to a single etiology. Rarely are things so simple. Still the connection between dementia and diabetes has been acknowledged for many years now. Many have gone so far as to use the term “type-3 diabetes” in reference to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
That may be a bit of a stretch. Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and type-2 diabetes is a chronic disease caused by poor nutrition choices and characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar by way of insulin resistance. Risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases significantly in those with poorly controlled high blood sugar. Put another way, people with high blood sugar experience worse long-term cognitive decline than their healthy peers, regardless of whether they’re technically diabetic or not.
Insulin resistance plays a role in Alzheimer’s as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In all three, sugar, even in the form of simple carbohydrates, is driving the pathology. Insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, regulates blood sugar in healthy individuals by signaling the liver and muscle and fat cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the blood to be used as energy. If someone is subjected to too much sugar over a long enough period of time, the body’s cells stop responding to insulin with the same efficiency. When that starts happening, glucose can’t enter the cells as easily, leading to a multitude of pathologies.
Diabetes and Alzheimer’s are independent disorders that share common pathophysiological mechanisms. The good news is that management strategies for blood sugar control–nutrition being paramount–might help alleviate the progression of subsequent cognitive decline over the long-term.
According to David Permutter, MD, a neurologist and author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, anything that prevents insulin resistance will ultimately also lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. A 2014 paper published by Dale Bredesen, MD, who authored The End of Alzheimer’s, stated that he was able to reverse Alzheimer’s in 9 out of 10 patients by addressing a number of healthy lifestyle parameters. The most basic goals are to eat a whole foods diet consisting of mostly plants, adequate healthy fats at every meal, and moderate intake of lean proteins in addition to plenty of clean, filtered water (and not out of plastic bottles, but that’s another topic).
There are several studies aimed at addressing the relationship between sugar and Alzheimer’s. I have included a few in my references, but there are many more. It is safe to say that excess sugar consumption is a recognized risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s by way of increased insulin resistance, as well as, a couple of other poorly understood mechanisms. Call it type-3 diabetes if you want. The point is sugar is lethal in a multitude of ways; especially to your brain.
Dr. Brian Myers is a naturopathic primary care doctor with a focus on gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. For more information regarding how you can live longer and more healthfully, go to www.livewellclinic.org or call (760) 771.5970.
Sources: 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4360697/; 2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045545; 3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458503; 4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5219633; 5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4265876; 6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4731873/