Blood Sugar Problems Lead to Brain Problems
The link between diabetes and a higher risk of dementia is well established. But recent research has found that people with blood-sugar levels lower than the threshold for diabetes are also at increased risk for dementia. So even if your blood glucose level says “normal,” you’re not off the risk hook for dementia. You may still be at higher risk than people with lower levels than yours.
But trust me, I’ve got a solution. You can eat your way out of danger.
A seven-year search pays off
Researchers at Tuft University’s HNRCA Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory followed more than 2,000 patients, average age 76, diabetic and non-diabetic, for nearly seven years.
None of them had dementia when the study kicked off. By the end, 26 percent had developed the condition.
That alone is a scary number for anyone looking toward their seventies. Around a quarter of us…dementia?
Breaking down the difference between the 26 percent and the rest:
- 109 mg/dl. Blood-sugar levels among non-diabetic participants who did not develop dementia
- 115 mg/dl. Blood-sugar levels among non-diabetic participants who developed dementia
This represents a 20 percent greater risk of dementia for people with moderately higher glucose levels.
In the group with diabetes:
- 160 mg/dl. Blood sugar levels among those who did not develop dementia
- 190 mg/dl. Blood sugar levels among those who developed dementia
Consider the 26 percent incidence of dementia in the 76-plus cohort overall, and combine it with this 40 percent increase in risk and—you want to avoid this.
I’ll tell you how in a minute.
Where dementia risk comes from
Whether you’re prediabetic or diabetic, it’s all about the blood sugar levels.
Every time we eat a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate food, it is quickly broken down into simple sugars. Sensing this, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood. That insulin tells our cells to grab the sugar (glucose) and convert it to energy.
Once the cells reach capacity, though, the excess glucose in the blood has to go somewhere. (And when you regularly eat high-sugar foods, there’s typically a LOT of excess glucose floating around…) The body stores the excess as glycogen—a form of sugar that is easily stored in our muscles and liver. Whatever sugar is left over in the blood is turned into triglycerides—which you already know are harmful for health.
Repeat this cycle over and over, day in and day out (as is usually the case for those who follow the standard American diet), and our cells eventually start ignoring insulin altogether. It’s the body’s way of saying, “How many times do we have to go through this before you realize it’s too much sugar!!”
Chronic hyperglycemia can cause inflammation of the lining of certain small blood vessels. This causes them to thicken, which stresses and weakens the blood vessel walls—a causative factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Circling back to Alzheimer’s…a 2005 study Brown Medical School found that the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients are actually insulin resistant. They stop taking in glucose, and without that energy, they stop working as they should. And this eventually leads to Alzheimer’s symptoms, as well as the plaques and tangles that are so characteristic of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Simply put, over time, great quantities of sugar and carbohydrates can become toxic to the brain.
When glucose is the problem, diet is the solution
As always, being overweight or obese just makes problems worse, so losing weight is an imperative.
I’ve put together a diet program that covers all the bases to reduce hyperglycemia and its increased risk of dementia. My Hope Lifestyle Program focuses on modified low-carb meals.
It gets outstanding results—Rita, for example, lost 45 pounds in six months, and reported, “It couldn’t have been easier.”
With The Hope Lifestyle Program, you eat mainly protein and healthy fats. Carbohydrates come from nutritious green vegetables, like kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and the like.
The basic guidelines:
- Organic meat (when possible), including chicken (with skin on to increase fat content), turkey, duck, quail, and grass-fed lean red meat. Meat should be broiled, baked, or sautéed, never fried. No breading or batter, and no processed meats, please.
- Fresh, wild-caught fish and shellfish are OK, as are organic eggs.
- Eat 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates from vegetables daily, unless you are a vegetarian, in which case aim for 30 grams of carbs. (There are good carb-value lists online.)
- Best choices: spinach, kale, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, asparagus, and bean sprouts.
- Small amounts of peppers, onions, and tomatoes are OK. And enjoy all the garlic you want, especially raw in salad dressings.
- Nuts are good protein sources that also provide healthy fats. Use them in moderation on salads or as a snack.
- For fats, organic olive oil, coconut, walnut, hemp, and avocado oils are all good choices, and you can also have organic mayonnaise and avocadoes.
- For beverages, I suggest fresh, filtered water, green tea, or organic, herbal teas. The herbal sweetener stevia is the only sweetener allowed on the plan.
Obviously, common carbs like bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, and alcohol are not allowed. And avoid starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, butternut squash, and peas.
Even if you’re in fine health, please consult with your doctor before starting this or any other plan. Some people on the Hope plan become overly acidic. That’s easily corrected, but momentarily uncomfortable.
Supplements for Blood Sugar…and Brain
There are several nutritional supplements that help control blood sugar—with the far-reaching benefit of protecting the brain. Here are just a few of my top recommendations:
Berberine (1000 mg/day) is a compound found in several plants like barberry and goldenseal. Research has found that it is as effective as prescription meds for lowering blood sugar. It also reduces glucose production in the liver, and increases insulin sensitivity. Added bonus: It helps to lower cholesterol!
Chromium (400 mcg/day) is an essential trace mineral that is necessary for healthy blood sugar. It helps transport sugar from the blood into the cells, where it can be used for fuel. Some research shows that chromium aids in weight loss too—always a boon when it comes to managing diabetes.
Gymnemna sylvestre (400 mg/day) is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to balance blood sugar. It helps block sugar absorption in the intestines, and also increases insulin production.
Because the Standard American Diet (SAD, perfect acronym) is dismally lacking in essential fatty acids, I also recommend Omega-3 supplements, 1,500 mg/day.
SAD is also way short on vitamin D-3, which is clearly linked to healthy blood sugar levels. Conventional medicine hasn’t yet caught up to the proper dosage—I recommend 5,000 IU/day.
It should go without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—that exercise, even walking around instead of sitting around, is a priceless (it’s free!) pillar of health. And so are an active mind and an active social life. Proof pours in from science almost daily that exercise, social interactions, and good diet, of course, add years of happy, healthy living.
Over to you. Take good care.
- “Control Your Blood Sugar to Help Protect Your Brain.”
- “The Hope Lifestyle Program for Weight Loss“
- “Link Found between Vitamin D Deficiency and Dementia.”
- “Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Dementia Confirmed.”
- Kassaar O, et al. Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientific Reports. 2017. Article number: 42874. doi:10.1038/srep42874.
- “Control Your Blood Sugar to Help Protect Your Brain” Tufts University Health & Nutrition Newsletter. December 2013
- Lan J. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol 2015 Feb 23;161:69-81.