People who have type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common kind of dementia. Here’s how to prevent Alzheimer's.
Scientists believe that there is a long period — from 10 to 20 years — when biochemical changes in the body set the stage for the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. What’s going on in during that time and how can we prevent it? Tracking the effects of high blood sugar provides big clues.
People who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, the most common kind of dementia. Some recent research also has found that 40 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have too much insulin in their blood, a condition associated with early or undiagnosed diabetes, prediabetes (when your blood sugar levels are too high) or obesity.
Scientists have seen that that too much blood sugar, called blood glucose, can damage proteins in cells via a reaction called “glycation,” when sugar combines with protein or fat. This is why it is probably a great idea to avoid eating foods containing "advanced glycation end-products" (AGEs) — particularly fatty meats that have been grilled, roasted, or baked.
Now a new method of detecting glycation may have yielded more about the “tipping point” that leads from high blood sugar to brain damage. Using this special method, when scientists from the University of Bath and King's College in London studied brain samples from people with and without Alzheimer's, the team found that in the early stages of Alzheimer's, glycation damages a particular enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor). This enzyme helps regulate insulin levels. It also should be active in preventing the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain we see in Alzheimer’s patients.
"We think that because sugar damage reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others that this could be a tipping point that allows Alzheimer's to develop,” says Jean van den Elsen, from the University of Bath Department of Biology and Biochemistry.
So far the evidence comes from brain samples; the team is now looking for signs of this process in the blood.
This latest research is more reason we all should take action to address blood sugar problems and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s. As Omar Kassaar, MD, a coauthor of the study put it, "Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer's disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets."
High blood sugar may lead to Alzheimer’s in other ways, too. It causes inflammation, which may damage brain cells and raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, which could be a factor in brain damage.
The takeaway: If you are caring for people with alzheimer's, be sure that their doctors have checked their blood sugar and treated any problems adequately, including prediabetes, levels that don’t quite meet the standard for diabetes.
How to prevent Alzheimer’s
Slowing or preventing diabetes is important for many other reasons.
To care for yourself and help prevent diabetes, take these steps:
- Lose at least 5 percent of your body weight — just 10 pounds in someone who weighs 200 pounds.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week.
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables. One fun rule of thumb is to make your meals colorful, avoiding any commercial dyes. Try to eat something red every day — beets, raspberries, red grapes, radishes, tomatoes, red peppers, pomegranates, and cherries. Eat something blue and purple — blackberries, blueberries, purple cabbage, or plums. Get your greens — try avocados, broccoli, and kale. Yellow and orange foods, count, too.
- Avoid anything fried and crispy from low dry heat, especially fatty meats.
March 16, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA