Have you ever heard the term “brain food?”
If you have, you’d likely associated with food that helps with concentration. Food that helps you focus. Learn. Do.
As it turns out, brain food is much, much more. The things we eat not only affect our day to day, but are constructing long term changes that can affect us far down the road.
You might remember my previous post about sugar and fat metabolism and how the brain uses and stores these things differently than other parts of our bodies. I narrowed the conversation to fad diets, but didn’t go into pathologies. Now is the time!
Our cells use sugar for fuel. Insulin is the hormone that aids in moving sugar into our cells for storage and use. Without it, your body essentially cannot process sugar and will not have sufficient energy. Some people are born with a gene that won’t allow them to produce insulin properly; this is called type I diabetes. It can be treated with insulin injections.
More recently, we’ve started to see adult onset diabetes. This was caused not by insulin deficiency, but because people were consuming so much sugar that over time their insulin hormones pretty much gave up. Repeated over consumption of sugars and carbs desensitized insulin- meaning that no matter how much sugar they were eating, it could no longer get to their cells; this is called type II diabetes. Administering insulin will not treat this problem effectively (but modifying diet can!).
Diabetes can lead to many complications including heart disease, kidney damage, and eye problems (to name a few). The reality is that all cells use insulin; anywhere you have cells, you can have complications as a result of diabetes…which is everywhere.
One of the most susceptible organs to harmful side effects of insulin resistance is the brain. When your brain cannot get sugar, it can lead to memory loss and disorientation.
The core problem of Alzheimer’s seems to stem from the presence of malformed versions of proteins called amyloid beta blockers (incidentally, these are coded for by chromosome 21, which is why we see an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s in individuals with Down’s syndrome….since they have an extra copy of this chromosome). Though the mechanisms of how these abnormal forms are created in the first place isn’t understood, there is current evidence to suggest that insulin plays a role. The brain essentially shrinks, in part, due to sugar starvation of cells.
Numerous experimental studies in mice have been done to demonstrate the link between Alzheimer’s disease and insulin deficiency. Mice who lacked insulin tended to demonstrate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and those treated with anti-diabetes drugs had their symptoms reversed. Other population based studies have also found that individuals with high sugar/high caloric diets were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to those with healthier diets. We also know that individuals who have type II diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s relative to those without diabetes, and that obesity is a risk factor.
The result? Buzz about a potential “type 3” diabetes that can be linked to development of Alzheimer’s- an absolutely devastating disease that affects the brain. There is currently no cure.
But the future isn’t all grim. A good diet and routine exercise can certainly help prevent these diseases. If anything, it should provide motivation to eat healthy and truly understand the gains that can be made through prevention.
Feel free to learn more about other risks for Alzheimer’s here.