Sugar On The Brain: Glucose Levels Related to Risk of Alzheimer’s

Friday Dec 13, 2013 | BY |
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Sugar and Alzheimer's

High blood sugar levels not only increase risk of diabetes and heart disease, but can also lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Score another one for naturopathy and integrative medicine. We’ve been saying all along that type-2 diabetes not only increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, but influences brain function, including mood and memory. Now researchers are linking high glucose levels with Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s well known that diabetes is a risk factor for vascular dementia. This type of dementia is the result of brain damage caused by blocked blood flow to the brain. Sounds simple, but it’s more complex than expected, and very expensive.

Alzheimer’s and Diabetes—the Connection

Alzheimer’s costs the U.S. $130 billion every year, and the expense is rising. The good news is that lowering glucose levels is not only possible with natural means, but lower glucose levels can reverse memory loss.

We are just learning Alzheimer’s disease is one of the potential complications of type-2 diabetes. This kind of diabetes happens because the liver, muscle, and fat cells become insensitive to insulin—the hormone that controls glucose (blood sugar) that tells cells to stop absorbing glucose from the blood.

No doubt about it: the cause of diabetes-2 is over eating sweet foods and eating the wrong kinds of fats. These foods dump lots of sugar in the blood, which causes insulin to spike. The body cells cannot handle high levels of insulin, so they stop responding to it, which allows glucose levels in the blood to rise. This condition is referred to as insulin resistance, and it’s associated with diabetes-2, but also can occur in those who have a pre-diabetic state.

Our brains love sugar. Brain cells use two times more energy than other cells in the body. But too much triggers a cascade of problems. New research indicates that brain cells can also become insulin resistant. When glucose builds up inside your head, it’s like having diabetes in your brain.

Too much sugar also reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Without enough BDNF, our brains can’t form new memories. Researchers found that levels of BDNF are very low in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

What’s Your Glucose Level?

A glucose level (as measured in a blood test) above 126 mg/dL is the marker for a clinical diagnosis of diabetes. Normal glucose levels are less than 100 mg/dL when tested in the morning before breakfast, and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating.

Most healthy people have glucose levels before meals between 70 to 80 mg/dL. But there are individual variations. Some people are healthy, and not hypoglycemic, with levels between 60 to 70 mg/dL, while others can have glucose as high as 90 mg/dL and be healthy.

In my patients, I’ve found that the optimal health level is between 75 to 84 mg/dL. I consider a desirable range to be between 70 to 90 mg/dL, not 99 mg/dL allowed by conventional medicine. In my clinical experience, many people can have early stage insulin resistance, and therefore should be considered pre-diabetic, with glucose levels between 90-105 mg/dL.

When I first started practicing years ago, the glucose level for diabetes was 110 mg/dL (now it’s 126). However, bottom line is that the higher the glucose level, the greater the disease.

What’s Your A1C?

Another important test for monitoring your blood sugar is hemoglobin A1c. Glycated hemoglobin (hemoglobin A1c, so simply A1C) is a form of hemoglobin measured in the blood to estimate the average plasma glucose concentration over about five months.

When too much glucose accumulates in the blood, sugars attach to hemoglobin A1C. When integrative medicine doctors want to learn how well patients are processing their body’s glucose, they measure A1C and fasting glucose. Too much A1C is associated with a worsening of many diseases, as well as accelerating aging.

Chart

Natural Solutions for Lowering Glucose and A1C

The solution that works 99 percent of the time is to stop eating refined sugars. Of course, a complete change of dietary choices results is normalization of glucose and A1C. Eat whole, fresh foods. Eat more vegetables. Consume less fructose (and even naturally occurring fructose in fruit juices and whole fruits), and increase the healthy fats and oils like omega-3s from fish oil (and stop eating unhealthy trans fats). Lifestyle choices make a big difference: sit less and exercise every day.

If standard dietary changes and exercise aren’t enough, consider going vegan for three months. Research shows that a low-fat, low-calorie vegetarian diet helps weight loss, lowers glucose and A1c, and improves insulin sensitivity.

Nutritional supplements also help, including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, glucose tolerance factor chromium, and green coffee bean extract. Researchers found that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was improved with green coffee bean extract. In high dosages (over 1,000 mg), if helped research subjects lose weight, and it is reported to also help lower blood pressure.

Five Ways to Lower Glucose and A1C

  1. Eat a Plant-Based Diet—for faster results, go vegetarian/vegan for three months.
  2. Exercise Vigorously Every Day
  3. Take Omega-3 Fish Oil—1,000 mg with meals
  4. Take GTF Chromium—200 mcg with meals
  5. Take Green Coffee Extract—up to 1,000 mg daily

Getting your glucose levels into the optimal range and effectively managing A1C is necessary for health, longevity, and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. It’s also a key in preserving your memory and preventing Alzheimer’s. What are your levels?

Dr. J. E. Williams

J. E. WILLIAMS, OMD, FAAIM

Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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