Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease: New Connections

On our show last year, we covered a new perspective on Alzheimer’s disease that is growing in popularity in the medical community: Could Alzheimer’s be diabetes of the brain? Last week, The New York Times explored this concept in their blog.

It should come as no surprise that diabetics have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, the reason for this connection is becoming more and more clear. Dr. Suzanne DeLaMonte, a neuropathologist and professor of pathology at The Alpert Medical School of Brown University, has been exploring this concept in her research. Her 2005 article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has been garnering attention.

The issue relates to insulin — the hormone that tells cells to absorb energy-giving sugar from the blood. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells resist insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and less energy-giving sugar for the insulin-resistant cells.

Your brain needs energy too — a lot of it. If those brain cells (otherwise known as neurons) become insulin resistant, you put yourself at risk for Alzheimer’s. In her research, Dr. DeLaMonte blocked the path of insulin to rats’ brains — a condition similar to insulin resistance. The rats eventually showed signs of Alzheimer’s and their brains eventually deteriorated.

It’s quite ironic, if you think about it. Too much sugar in your diet can lead to insulin resistance, which potentially starves your brain of sugar and leads to Alzheimer’s. This, for me, adds another reason for making small but vital adjustments that can prolong your life.

One of your first needed adjustments: Carbs. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar, which makes it just as bad for your health as actual sugar. One simple change you can make is to switchbadcarbsinyourdietforgoodcarbs.

Second change: Soda. The average American drinks 53 gallons of soda a year; if it’s regular soda, that comes to about 49 pounds of sugar. Soda harms your health in many other ways. It is loaded with caffeine, high-fructose corn syrup and calories. With my 28-DayNationalSodaChallenge, you may be able to cut the soda for good.

However, if you’re thinking that cutting down on sugar means adding more artificial sweeteners, think again. Researchhaslinkedusingartificialsweetenerswithdiabetesandobesity. As the sweet receptors in your esophagus and stomach are “tricked” by the zero-calorie substitutes, your pancreas is tricked into sending a false spike of insulin that can lead to insulin resistance anyway, leading to diabetes.

So what can you do? Instead of raw sugar or artificial sweeteners, consider some natural, low-calorie sweetener alternatives:

  • Honey: Unlike white table sugar, honey is a complex food. One teaspoon contains 25 other compounds including proteins, amino acids and trace minerals.
  • Raw Buckwheat Honey: This darker version of honey is much less processed and refined that light-colored regular honey. It isn’t strained or heated, so it retains many disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants. Try about 1 tablespoon a day.
  • Agave: A distilled sweetener derived from the blue agave cactus, agave has a low glycemic index.
  • Stevia: This non-caloric sweetener comes from a plant and is all-natural. However, beware: There are a ton of stevia products sold with extra additives as some companies blend it with other sweeteners.

Even with modest changes in your diet, you can make a big difference in your health!