Unless you’ve been living on a remote desert island for the past few years, you’ll have noticed that public awareness on the dangers of eating too much sugar has increased dramatically. Most people are now well aware that a diet high in refined carbohydrates is linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some forms of cancer. Not many people realise however, that a high intake of sugar is now linked to Alzheimer’s Disease too. Current research shows that sugar has particularly damaging effects on the brain.
The shocking link – sugar & Alzheimer’s
Although not widely known, the link between sugar and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is well established. It was way back in 2005, that studies began to appear which revealed a shocking correlation between insulin and brain cell deterioration, and the link is now so strong that the term Type 3 Diabetes has been proposed as a new name for the disease when it develops specifically as a result of insulin resistance in the brain. Research now shows that insulin resistance may be one of the major factors that starts the brain damage cascade. It seems that there is a type of Alzheimer’s Disease which may grow out of an impaired ability to metabolise glucose in the brain and this often appears long before any symptoms of Alzheimer’s are present. Scientists are now asking whether reduced glucose utilization in the brain could be one of the earliest events in AD.
What about fat & cholesterol?
In addition, there is a well established genetic link whereby risk of Alzheimer’s increases with possession of one or two E4 alleles for the Apolipoprotein E gene (ApoE4) which is involved in lipid processing – implicating defects in fat and cholesterol transport. Studies have also shown a significant reduction in the amount of fatty acids present in the cerebrospinal fluid of Alzheimer’s patients, which suggests that fat insufficiency may be a key part of the picture too.
Cholesterol is still ‘marketed’ as the bad guy – however this much maligned substance plays a vital role in brain function – around 25% of the total cholesterol in the body is found in the brain, and is particularly prevalent in the synapses and the myelin sheath - here, cholesterol plays an essential role in signal transport and in growth and repair.
Can dietary change help?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a complex condition, and research into its pathology, like so many other chronic, degenerative diseases, is riddled with uncertainty. However, as evidence emerges of possible involvement of sugar excess and fat deficiency, there may be significant potential for dietary change to aid with prevention in the long term.
Commenting on a recent study on the subject, where high blood sugar levels were found to be associated with a higher risk of dementia, Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Evidence already points to diabetes as a risk factor for dementia, but this study suggests that high blood sugar levels alone could be harmful to the brain…While age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, research is showing that genetic and lifestyle factors can also be important.”
What you can do:
Avoid / reduce refined sugar in all forms – cut down on white bread, pasta, rice, sweets, biscuits, cakes, sugary drinks and snacks, convenience foods etc.
Make friends with fat - Maintain an optimal daily intake of essential fatty acids – omega 3 fats found in nuts, seeds and oily fish are commonly deficient in a typical Western diet so a daily omega 3 fish oil supplement is recommended. Load up on healthy fats from olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and coconut oil too.
Increase your intake of antioxidants from brightly coloured fruits and vegetables as the brain is highly vulnerable to damage from free radicals.