Nobody would intentionally set their brain on fire, but many people do this unintentionally every day. When you combine elevated blood sugar levels with high levels of inflammation in the body, which results from following the SAD Standard American Diet, that combination has the potential to set your brain on fire. How? Consider a lighter and a can of gasoline. Without an open flame, the gasoline is simply a source of fuel. Now imagine that the elevated blood sugar is the gasoline, and the inflammation is the lighter flame. Combine the two together and…poof!
Elevated blood sugar levels are now considered the strongest reversible risk factor for memory loss, so it’s no coincidence that dementia is now known as “Type III Diabetes.” In my clinical practice, I see people who suffer from insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes, and they have no idea about the havoc their blood sugar is wreaking on their brains. The crisis is two-fold. First, this problem is incredibly common as nearly one third of adults (one half of baby boomers) have elevated blood sugar levels. And second, many baby boomers also have elevated inflammation and early signs of heart disease. When you combine these common risk factors together, you see a dramatic and alarming increased risk for memory loss. I call this problem “Diabetes Brain”.
High blood sugar levels literally caramelize your tissue proteins, and in the same way that soaking wood with gasoline makes it burn faster, your own tissues break down faster when they are sugar coated. They promote weight gain, especially the nasty fat that grows around our waistlines. An increase in body fat, especially visceral fat, is strongly associated with memory loss. High blood sugar levels increase inflammation. And high levels of inflammation accelerate all aspects of aging, especially when both blood sugar and inflammation levels are elevated. High blood sugar levels cause a variety of hormonal imbalances, which lead to diabetes, weight gain, arterial plaque growth, and physiological stress—all of which contribute to cognitive decline.
In early cognitive decline, insulin resistance leads to poor glucose uptake by neuronal tissue, starving tissues and decreasing their function. In later stages of memory loss, decreased glucose uptake leads to nerve cell death, and the brain begins to shrink. Both type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance) and type 1 diabetes (lack of insulin) lead to decreased glucose uptake in brain tissue and subsequent brain cell injury. It’s a (nasty) feedback loop: Not only is abnormal blood sugar control a strong risk factor for memory loss, but elevated blood sugar levels are the #1 cause of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the #1 predictor of brain dysfunction, and the #1 predictor for heart disease and cardiovascular dysfunction is blood sugar imbalance.
What’s the Solution?
Take Heart! The same plan that helps prevent and reverse heart disease, is also incredibly effective at helping to protect your brain. In fact, published articles from my clinic show that following my program improves executive brain function by 25%, and helps prevent memory loss, too.
Your steps include the same four pillars that benefit your heart:
- Eat more fiber (from veggies, fruits, beans, and nuts) and smart fats
- Add activity every day
- Ensure you meet your critical needs for fish oil, a good quality multivitamin with the right amounts of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and mixed folates
- Spend 10-20 minutes daily being calm and peaceful, managing your stress.
And a bit more good news………moderate consumption of coffee, tea, red wine, and dark chocolate are all good for your brain. I’ll send you more details later.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS