Dear reader: If you haven’t heard of “Type 3 Diabetes” yet, you are bound to. New research has uncovered a probable cause to this insidious disease otherwise known as Alzheimer’s disease. But before you collapse into a fetal position out of sheer horror after absorbing this information, there are preventable solutions. After all, this article is not to scare you to smithereens, but enlighten and education you. This is really good stuff!
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, dementia is an enormous problem and growing every day. Ten percent of 65-year olds, 25 percent of 75-year olds, and 50 percent of 85-year olds will get Alzheimer’s disease. This age group is the fastest growing segment of the population, and it is predicted Alzheimer’s will affect 106 million people by 2050.
Again, please don’t shut down your device and run away from this article yet! Hang with me!
The number of people with Alzheimer’s is predicted to triple in the next few decades. It is now the seventh leading cause of death. The cost to society of this scourge on memory and quality of life is tremendous—$60 billion a year to be exact. What you may not realize is that Alzheimer’s is now being called type 3 diabetes by a growing portion of the medical community.
Why? Pioneering new research has proven that insulin resistance is a major factor in starting the cascade of brain damage that robs the memory of over half of people in their 80’s leading to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. But you don’t even have to wait until your 80’s to start feeling the effects that insulin has on your memory.
Many people now have what is being called “pre-dementia”—a condition that goes hand-in-hand with pre-diabetes. You can think of this as early Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have shown that diabetics have a four-fold risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and patients with pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome have a dramatically increased risk of pre-dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).You don’t have to have diabetes to have brain damage and memory loss from high insulin levels and insulin resistance. Having pre-diabetes can give you pre-dementia.
Waist size goes up, size of your brain and functionality goes down
Recent studies have found that as your waist size goes up, the size of your brain goes down and your brain function is impaired. One extraordinary brain imaging study by Dr. Daniel Amen, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and his colleagues found that obesity was associated with decreased blood flow in your frontal cortex (the portion of your brain that controls executive decision making; “should I have that donut right now or not?”).
The process of decline starts in childhood and adolescence
Another study of 2632 men and women over 5 years published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those with metabolic syndrome (or insulin resistance) and inflammation had dramatic declines in cognitive function. This happens well before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has been made. In fact, new brain imaging techniques called PET scans (positron emission tomography), which look not at brain structure like a CT scan or regular MRI but at brain metabolism (cellular function and activity), found altered and damaged brain function that occurs far in advance of the diagnosis of dementia. Some say that changes can be identified decades before diagnosis. This process of decline, which is in intimately related to insulin resistance, starts in childhood and adolescence.
Given the epidemic of childhood obesity and the fact that we are seeing heart disease in 20 year olds, will we soon see an epidemic of Alzheimer’s when (or if) these kids turn 40? This is far more serious than just forgetting your keys. Mild cognitive impairment is a significant problem for some, and we have very little data on the personal, social, and medical costs of this silent epidemic. What’s more, the connection between MCI and Alzheimer’s is clear. What we are facing is a generation of people doomed to the horror of slowly, yet systematically, losing their memory. Again, in case you didn’t get it…we are facing is a generation of people doomed to the horror of slowly, yet systematically, losing their memory.
This is all the more tragic because most of this suffering is avoidable and even reversible. You see, the brain responds to all the same insults as the rest of the body — stress, poor diet, toxins, lack of exercise or sleep, nutritional deficiencies, and more. Most doctors today still don’t realize how deeply connected the brain and the body are. In fact, they are not two separate systems, they are one elegant continuous ecosystem. What you do to the body affects the brain and what you do to the brain affects the body.
Ok. Take a deep breath…in…out…in…out. Now…keep reading.
Pioneering work by neurologist Dennis Selkoe, who has linked sugar and its ability to create insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome (or pre-diabetes), and diabetes to Alzheimer’s. The links in the biochemical chain from over consumption of sugar to Alzheimer’s disease is actually strikingly clear. Here is what happens:
- Over-consumption of sugar leads to diabesity.
- Diabesity leads to inflammation.
- Inflammation leads to further insulin imbalance and more weight gain.
- Which leads to more inflammation.
- And this systemic inflammation eventually affects the brain.
There are other factors at stake too like environmental toxins, oxidative stress, excess cortisol from too much stress, hormonal imbalances, and more, but this basic chain of events from eating sugar to inflammation in the brain is very direct. And when we look at an autopsy of an Alzheimer’s brain what we see is a brain on fire.
The inflammation story is repeated over and over in all disease, and dramatically so in aging and the brain. This is why sugar, trans fats, other chemically altered cooking oils, stress, infections, lack of exercise, autoimmune disease, diabesity, vitamin deficiencies, celiac disease (from eating wheat and gluten) and colitis which are inflammatory digestive diseases, all increase the risk of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. They all promote inflammation. It is also why anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, may reduce the risk of dementia. But don’t take them to reduce your risk. Over 100,000 a year end up in the hospital and 16,000 die every year year from intestinal bleeding because of these medications.
Almost to those “solutions” I mentioned earlier – keep reading!
Everyone is searching for the one thing that causes diseases like Alzheimer’s. But there is no one thing. A complex interaction of multiple factors from your lifestyle and environment interacting with your genes create problems. We have to address all the factors to succeed in helping the brain become healthy and recover. The inflammatory markers or cytokines that we see in almost all disease are now being discovered in Alzheimer’s and other neurological and psychiatric diseases. But cytokines are just the smoke signals (symptoms). The real question is what causes the cytokines to send messages of inflammation and spread the fire. The list is relatively short:
- Our inflammatory diet, which consists of enormous amounts of sugar (150-180 pounds per person per year), refined flours, as well as trans fats and saturated fats.
- Food allergens—mostly delayed reactions to food or hidden allergens that lead to “brain allergies” (allergic reactions in the body that cause inflammation in the brain)
- Imbalances in digestive function and the gut immune system that produce widespread systemic effects
- Toxins such as mercury and pesticides (and the 85,000 mostly untested toxins in our environment) which have been linked to immune dysfunction and autoimmune diseases
- Low grade, hidden, or chronic infections such as HIV-associated dementia, syphilis and Lyme disease which can cause many neurologic and psychiatric “diseases”, or PANDAS that leads to OCD.
- Stress—emotional or physical such as trauma
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Inadequate sleep—less than 7 hours a night
- Nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fats
The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable
Of all of these by far the most important factor in brain aging and inflammation in America is sugar. The sheer flood of sweet things and processed refined foods into our bodies is a tidal wave that leaves destruction everywhere we look. The insulin triggered by this flood of sugar sets into motion an entire inflammatory parade that can eventually leads to Alzheimer’s as well as a sea of disease beyond the brain—heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and rapid aging. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable.
Aside from its effects on insulin, sugar (or anything that quickly turns to sugar, the “white foods” such as potatoes and pasta) is an enormous stress on the body, triggering a surge in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. If you notice your kids bounce of the walls after a big sugar load it is because the sugar produced a jolt of adrenalin. And the surge of insulin in the body that goes along with this over consumption of sugar turns on cellular switches that increase the inflammatory cytokines, just as happens when you have the flu. Except it doesn’t go away, but persists for decades doing its damage slowly.
The evidence is in, folks. Sugar causes inflammation. Period.
There is no scientific controversy here. The evidence is in. Sugar causes inflammation. The insulin resistant fat cells you pack on when you eat too much sugar produce nasty inflammatory messengers (cytokines) like TNF , and IL-6 spreading their damage to the brain. The damage doesn’t only lead to Alzheimer’s. Researchers have suggested calling depression “metabolic syndrome Type II” because instead of just have a fat swollen belly, you also get a fat swollen (and depressed) brain. And psychiatrists are starting to treat depression and psychiatric disorders with anti-diabetic drugs like Actos. These drugs lower blood sugar, lower insulin AND reduce inflammation.
How could we really believe that our brains could tolerate half a pound of sugar a day on average and be healthy?
The good news is that reversing this process is possible, and it’s not particularly difficult. You just have to control your insulin and balance your blood sugar. Doing this is critical not only for overcoming diabesity but for balancing your mood, focusing, having energy, and preventing all the age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Ok…that’s more like it…whew! We’re getting closer to some solutions. Almost there!
Start by looking hard for correctable causes of memory loss. They include:
- Pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome—this may be the biggest factor of all.
- Low thyroid function
- Depression Deficiencies in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fat deficiencies
- Mercury or other heavy metal toxicity
- Vitamin D deficiency
- High cholesterol
Unique genes that predispose you to nutritional or detoxification problems. Physicians who practice Functional Medicine and follow the functional medicine principles can you uncover these problems. Once you identify the underlying causes of the imbalance, here are a few things that can help your mind get a tune-up:
- Balance your blood sugar with a whole foods, low glycemic diet
- Exercise daily — even a 30-minute walk can help
- Deeply relax daily with yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or just deep breathing
- Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement
- Take an omega-3 fat supplement
- Take extra vitamin B6, B12, and folate
- Take vitamin D
- Treat thyroid or low sex hormones
- Get rid of mercury through a medical detoxification program
This is just a start, but it can go a long way to giving your brain the chance to heal and recover if you have memory problems and other related symptoms. Even if you aren’t suffering from cognitive decline, you should take these steps because they can help you prevent the aging of your brain and an improved overall life.
And, who doesn’t want to live a healthier life?!
I know this news is pretty horrifying stuff. But, there are solutions, my friends. LiveHealthy!
**Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing functional medicine family physician, a ten-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and was a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The View, Katie and The Dr. Oz Show.