High-Sugar Diet Significantly Raises Your Risk of Dementia
One of the most striking studies on carbohydrates and brain health revealed that high-carb diets increase your risk of dementia by a whopping 89 percent, while high-fat diets lower it by 44 percent. According to the authors, “A dietary pattern with relatively high caloric intake from carbohydrates and low caloric intake from fat and proteins may increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia in elderly persons.”
Studies also strongly suggest Alzheimer’s disease is intricately connected to insulin resistance; even mild elevation of blood sugar is associated with an elevated risk for dementia. Diabetes and heart disease are also known to elevate your risk, and both are rooted in insulin resistance.
This connection between high-sugar diets and Alzheimer’s was again highlighted in a longitudinal study published in the journal Diabetologia in January 2018. Nearly 5,190 individuals were followed over a decade, and the results showed that the higher an individual’s blood sugar, the faster their rate of cognitive decline.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics Have Higher Risk for Alzheimer’s
The connection between sugar and Alzheimer’s was first broached in 2005, when the disease was tentatively dubbed “Type 3 diabetes.” At that time researchers discovered that your brain produces insulin necessary for the survival of your brain cells. A toxic protein called ADDL removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, thereby rendering those neurons insulin resistant, and as ADDLs accumulate, your memory begins to deteriorate.
Curiously, while low insulin levels in your body are associated with improved health, the opposite appears to be true when it comes to the insulin produced in your brain. Reduced brain insulin actually contributes to the degeneration of brain cells, and studies have found that people with lower levels of insulin and insulin receptors in their brain often have Alzheimer’s disease.
According to researchers, “These abnormalities do not correspond to Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but reflect a different and more complex disease process that originates in the central nervous system.”
In 2016, researchers at John’s Hopkins department of biology discovered that nerve growth factor, a protein found in your nervous system that is involved in the growth of neurons, also triggers insulin release in your pancreas. So there appears to be a rather complex relationship between body insulin, brain insulin and brain function, and we’ve probably only begun to tease out all of these connections.
Case in point, even Type 1 diabetics are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s, even though their bodies don’t produce insulin at all. Melissa Schilling, a professor at New York University, investigated this paradox in 2016. As reported by The Atlantic:
According to Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and author of “Grain Brain” and “Brain Maker,” anything that promotes insulin resistance will ultimately also raise your risk of Alzheimer’s. To this I would add that any strategy that enhances your mitochondrial function will lower your risk. Considering the lack of effective treatments, prevention really cannot be stressed strongly enough.
In 2014, Bredesen published a paper that demonstrates the power of lifestyle choices for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s. By leveraging 36 healthy lifestyle parameters, he was able to reverse Alzheimer’s in 9 out of 10 patients.
This included the use of exercise, ketogenic diet, optimizing vitamin D and other hormones, increasing sleep, meditation, detoxification and eliminating gluten and processed food. You can download Bredesen’s full-text case paper online, which details the full program. Following are some of the lifestyle strategies I believe to be the most helpful and important:
Eat real food, ideally organic
Avoid processed foods of all kinds, as they contain a number of ingredients harmful to your brain, including refined sugar, processed fructose, grains (particularly gluten), vegetable oils, genetically engineered ingredients and pesticides. Ideally, keep your added sugar to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you already have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.
Opting for organic produce will help you avoid synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Most will also benefit from a gluten-free diet, as gluten makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream where they sensitize your immune system and promote inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Replace refined carbs with healthy fats
Diet is paramount, and the beauty of following my optimized nutrition plan is that it helps prevent and treat virtually all chronic degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s. It’s important to realize that your brain actually does not need carbs and sugars; healthy fats such as saturated animal fats and animal-based omega-3 are far more critical for optimal brain function.
A cyclical ketogenic diet has the double advantage of both improving your insulin sensitivity and lowering your Alzheimer’s risk. As noted by Perlmutter, lifestyle strategies such as a ketogenic diet can even offset the risk associated with genetic predisposition. (Estimates suggest genetics account for less than 5 percent of Alzheimer’s cases.
An estimated 75 million Americans have the single allele for ApoE4. Those who are ApoE4 positive have a 30 percent lifetime risk of developing the disease. Approximately 7 million have two copies of the gene, which puts them at a 50 percent lifetime risk. It’s unknown how many Americans have the TOMM40 gene or others that may affect your risk.)
When your body burns fat as its primary fuel, ketones are created, which not only burn very efficiently and are a superior fuel for your brain, but also generate fewer reactive oxygen species and less free radical damage. A ketone called beta hydroxybutyrate is also a major epigenetic player, stimulating beneficial changes in DNA expression, thereby reducing inflammation and increasing detoxification and antioxidant production.
I explain the ins and outs of implementing this kind of diet, and its many health benefits, in my new book “Fat for Fuel.” In it, I also explain why cycling through stages of feast and famine, opposed to continuously remaining in nutritional ketosis, is so important.
Pay close attention to the kinds of fats you eat — avoid all trans fats or hydrogenated fats that have been modified in such a way to extend their longevity on the grocery store shelf. This includes margarine, vegetable oils and various butter-like spreads.
Healthy fats to add to your diet include avocados, butter, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, grass fed meats and raw nuts such as pecans and macadamia. MCT oil is also a great source of ketone bodies.