Does Your Brain Have Diabetes? A New Take on Alzheimer’s Disease
Type 1 diabetes is known to be a type of autoimmune disorder where the body is unable to produce its own insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is fast becoming the disease of the era, a global epidemic linked to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.
Now, in the wake of new evidence, researchers are speculating that the debilitating Alzheimer’s disease is a result of a new type of diabetes- Type 3 or ‘Brain Diabetes’.
First coined as Type 3 diabetes in 2005, this disorder involves both reduced production of insulin and reduced sensitivity of insulin receptors within the central nervous system. Elements characteristic of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Strong links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease have been observed in longitudinal cohort studies in recent years.
In 2004, Arvanitakis, et al. studied over 800 people over the age of 55 and found that individuals with diabetes had a 65% increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those without diabetes mellitus.
Other risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease include diets high in saturated and trans fats, heavy metal toxicities such as mercury and aluminium, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies including Vitamin D, poor methylation, cardiovascular disease, advancing age and familial history.
The Insulin – Brain Connection
Insulin facilitates memory function in several ways including activating signalling pathways in the brain associated with learning and long-term memory and regulating neuron (brain cell) development, survival and energy metabolism in the brain.
Insulin receptors are found in highest concentrations in areas of the brain responsible for cognition and interestingly, treatment with nasally-administered insulin has been found to improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients.
Post-mortem analyses of Alzheimer’s brain tissues demonstrates an 80% decrease in the number of insulin receptors in comparison to normal subjects.
Results also reveal that the ability of insulin to bind to receptors is compromised and insulin expression in Alzheimer’s brains is inversely proportional to level of neurodegeneration as measured on the Braak scale.
How Does It All Go Wrong?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, characterised by brain cell (neuron) death and consequent loss of memory and cognitive function as a result of inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, neurotoxins and reduced communication between brain cells (neural synaptic transmission).
Insulin is responsible for the uptake of glucose into brain cells, so insulin resistance in the brain causes disruption to cellular energy metabolism and affects the brain’s capacity to develop connections required for memory and learning.
Insulin resistance is also associated with damaging levels of inflammation, oxidative stress and the development of neurotoxic compounds called Amyloid-Beta Derived Diffusible Ligands (ADDLs) in the brain.
ADDLs, precursors to the well researched beta-amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease, are believed to bind at neural synapses and prevent the accumulation of insulin receptors, thereby making the receptors unable to respond to insulin and worsening insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance in the brain is likely to result from elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance in the body, processes underlying Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
To find out more about how insulin resistance develops and how to reduce your risk naturally, read more here.
So, What Can You Do?
This research clearly shows that metabolic health has a huge impact on brain health and cognitive function.
While there is no conventional cure for Alzhemer’s disease, you have the power to change a number of lifestyle and dietary factors to reduce your risk of developing the disease, despite any genetic influences.
Undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance can lead to serious health complications such as Type 3 diabetes as blood sugar levels often remain consistently elevated.
Be proactive and ask your GP to test how your body is metabolising glucose via blood tests, or better yet, read up on these simple tests you can do at home on a daily basis to assess your risk of these metabolic diseases.
It is important to avoid Vitamin D deficiency particularly if you are at risk of Alzheimer’s due to other health factors, so make sure you get your levels tested every few months and supplement if necessary.
Personalised genetic, nutritional and metabolic tests available through Emed can also help to determine potential health factors that may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes.
The sooner you know you are at risk, or may even already have a problem with blood sugar regulation, the sooner you can take action!
Shirk the Sugar
Sugar is one of the biggest culprits in metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
Eating sugar or even processed carbohydrates such as white breads and pastas causes an immediate spike in blood sugar (glucose) levels resulting in an increased output of insulin by the pancreas to help absorb the glucose.
Over time, insulin receptors stop responding to consistently high levels of insulin in the body, and glucose can no longer be properly absorbed into cells causing a multitude of damage all over the body.
The production of insulin by the pancreas also decreases resulting in insulin resistance, or more seriously, Type 2 or 3 diabetes.
The best way to ensure your body is able to cope with carbohydrates and your pancreas and insulin receptors continue to function normally, is to avoid any sort of sugar or refined carbohydrates in your diet.
If you are going to eat grains, make sure they are whole grains, preferably gluten-free and only eat in moderation! Healthier sources of unrefined, complex carbohydrates include fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds and legumes.
Research shows that it is essential to keep active both physically and mentally to improve metabolic health and maintain good cognitive function.
Physical exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy body weight, improve insulin sensitivity and regulate metabolic function. It also assists with improving mood and cardiovascular health, increasing blood flow to the brain and assisting with neuronal health and function.
The great thing is there is no downside to exercise when done within an individual’s capabilities!
Start off small with regular walks, swimming or even group classes at community centres or local gyms. This is a great way to get more involved in the community and continue socialising- an important factor for maintaining mental health throughout the ageing process.
Beneficial mental exercises for stimulating cognitive function and maintaining memory include electronic ‘brain-training’ programs, crosswords, sudoku, puzzles, learning a new language or how to play music etc.
Music therapy also has a potential to improve mental health and cognitive function, especially in the elderly via stress reduction, lifting mood and facilitating the growth of new brain cells.
However more research is required to determine a specific effect in regard to Alzheimer’s patients.
Feed Your Brain
Certain nutrients and herbs are specific for enhancing cognitive function and memory via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms, improving blood circulation to the brain and enhancing neuronal health and function.
Herbs researched for these actions include Turmeric, Ginkgo, Korean ginseng and Withania. High quality, standardised products containing these herbs include Pure Innovation Curcumin (turmeric) extract, MediHerb Withania and Ginseng Complex and Ginkgo Forte.
Nutrients to help support healthy brain function and with a therapeutic potential for Alzheimer’s disease include phosphatidylserine, omega 3 fatty acids (found in Fish Oil supplements), CoEnzyme Q10 and Acetyl-L-carnitine.
Other important nutrients for cognitive health in Alzheimer’s prevention and support are Vitamin B6, B12 and folate.
These nutrients are involved in DNA methylation, a process required to maintain healthy gene expression. These nutrients also help to reduce levels of homocysteine in the body, a toxic compound associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and even Alzheimer’s.
Emed recommends taking these nutrients in their activated forms to ensure the best results.
Try Eagle Tresos Activated B for a full range of B-vitmains including methylation nutrients.
Support Insulin Signalling
In addition to following a diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, it is important to include plenty of anti-inflammatory fats and good quality sources of protein in your meals and snacks.
These macronutrients help to improve insulin sensitivity and are a source of slow-releasing energy throughout the day.
Include plenty of fish (wild and cold water if possible), grass-fed lean meats, organic poultry and eggs, raw nuts and seeds (pesticide free), legumes, avocados, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, dark green leafy vegetables.
Alpha-Lipoic acid is an excellent nutrient to supplement with to enhance insulin sensitivity and signalling. It also helps to reduce inflammation, has powerful antioxidant effects both inside and outside cells and regenerates other antioxidants within the body.
Chromium and magnesium are two other important nutrients required for healthy blood sugar regulation. Chromium enhances insulin activity and sensitivity to reduce risk of developing diabetes.
It is commonly deficient in Type 2 diabetics, and may also assist with cardiovascular health.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and has wide-ranging benefits on the body.
In specific to Alzheimer’s, magnesium has been found to promote learning and memory by boosting neural transmission, synaptic plasticity and density.
Research also shows that magnesium enhances insulin sensitivity and metabolic control, particularly in magnesium deficient and diabetic individuals.
We love Ultra Muscleze for a magnesium boost!
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Arvanitakis, Z. et al. 2004, Diabetes mellitus and risk of Alzheimer disease and decline in cognitive function, Archives of Neurology, Vol. 61(5)
Kroner, Z. 2009, The Relationship between Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes: Type 3 Diabetes?, Alternative Medicine Review, Vol. 14(4)
Wollen, K. 2010, Alzheimer’s Disease: The Pros and Cons of Pharmaceutical, Nutritional, Botanical, and Stimulatory Therapies, with a Discussion of Treatment Strategies from the Perspective of Patients and Practitioners, Alternative Medicine Review, Vol 15(3)