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Almost half of adults over age 85 are diagnosed with cognitive issues (1), adding up to 5.2 million Americans that are currently suffering.
In 2006, Swedish researchers found that borderline blood sugar levels are associated with an almost 70% increased risk of developing cognitive concerns later in life (age 75 and over). (2) This finding was recently confirmed in the New England Journal of Medicine, where they found that fasting blood sugars just above 95mg/dL – still considered within the ‘normal’ range – were associated with a significant risk in cognitive issues later in life. (11)
In a 2011 report from the CDC, one-third of Americans are currently pre-diabetic, (3) putting 100 million Americans at significant risk for mental and cognitive concerns. To make matters worse, 90% of them – or 90 million Americans – are unaware they have pre-diabetes! (3)
Moreover, many people don’t realize that you can eat healthy treats and still be in the pre-diabetic zone.
Depressing, right? But this does not have to be you, and you can have a positive effect on helping your loved ones steer clear of the danger zone, too.
Read on and learn how to change these odds before it is too late!
Blood Sugar and Memory: Two Links to the Same End
There are two basic theories linking elevated blood sugars to cognitive and mental clarity later in life:
Theory 1: Insulin Resistance of the Brain
Often, cognitive decline is due to a process by which excess amyloid plaque builds up in the brain, compromising brain function.
While many theories exist as to why the plaque accumulates, one common theory is that it is due to a lack of a protein called insulin-degrading enzyme.
This protein’s job is to remove excess sugar-carrying insulin and amyloid plaque from the brain.
If this enzyme is too busy removing insulin and excess sugar from the brain due to high blood sugar levels, there may not be enough to also remove excess plaque, thereby significantly increasing the risk of cognitive and mental clarity issues.
In one study, mice who were lacking in this enzyme developed significant cognitive and mental faculty decline, and elderly people have been shown to get increased amyloid plaque in the cerebrospinal fluid pulsing in the brain when insulin is injected into their veins. (4)
How Insulin Resistance Works
When blood sugars rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin to drive the sugar into the cells. If the sugars stay abnormally high due to a diet high in simple carbs and/or sugars, the muscles and brain cells can become resistant to up-taking sugar.
No sugar in the brain = no thinking juice!
Theory 2: Glycation and Free Radicals
Excess sugar in the blood tends to oxidize easily and begins to attach to circulating proteins in a process called glycation. In this process, proteins and sugars stick together and may attach to and thicken the arterial walls in both the heart and the brain.
These formations linking protein and sugar are known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, and are a kind of free radical. Once formed, they can further oxidize and ultimately raise oxidized LDL (low density lipoprotein) levels.
Brain autopsies of elderly patients with cognitive issues show signs of significant oxidative damage induced by free radicals. Oxidized LDLs further damage the arterial walls, putting them at risk for calcium plaque formation, and creating an increased risk of other cardiovascular concerns and an inflammation response outside of the normal range. (5)
Support for the Glycation Theory
In a 2006 article published by Life Extension Magazine, a group of Swedish researchers reported on finding higher than normal levels of AGEs in elderly autopsied patients.
They found that advanced glycation end products were present in higher amounts in the biopsied brains of elderly patients who had died with cognitive issues than in those who died from other causes. They also presented evidence that AGEs form in the brains of those suffering from cognitive issues earlier in life, much before cognitive decline is noticed. (6)
They went on to note that, “A particularly dangerous form of AGE that has toxic effects against neurons has been found to accumulate in the region of the brain associated with memory and emotion,” an area that sustains damage in most accelerated mental aging patients. (7)
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Both of these theories regarding the cause of cognitive decline posit that it stems from excess sugar in the blood, so whichever theory we decide to investigate further, luckily we can agree on the method for prevention.
The Swedish researchers cited above concluded that,
“Our findings have significant implications for public health because some studies show that impaired glucose regulation can be improved by lifestyle changes.” Their findings also indicated the need to detect borderline blood sugar issues in order to proactively address cognitive concerns.”
The key here is early detection of any blood sugar regulation issues, and a diet and lifestyle that can both prevent and reverse blood sugar levels outside of the optimal range. The problem is that 90 million Americans are unaware that they are at risk.
Protect Your Brain: Prevention Steps
- Step One: Screen Your Blood Sugar at Home
At LifeSpa, we source blood sugar monitors that are inexpensive and hospital-approved. Check your blood sugar first thing each morning – this is called your fasting blood sugar – over a period of two weeks. Average levels between 70-85mg/dL are ideal. Over 100mg/dL is considered borderline. Don’t wait until it is too late to screen.
- Step Two: Take the Hidden and Not-So-Hidden Sugar Out of your Diet
Please read my Free Blood Sugar eBook, “Blood Sugar Secrets for Health and Longevity” to find out if you are consuming excess hidden sugars without realizing it!
- Step Three: Proper Exercise for the Brain and Blood Sugar
The big muscles in the body use most of the body’s sugar. When you use these muscles intensively, they pull significant amounts of sugar out of the blood that might otherwise damage the arteries and the brain. You can get these benefits in just 12 minutes a day!
- Step Four: Eat 3 Meals per Day, No Snacks
Spacing meals apart and consistently giving the body time without any food intake allows the body to burn its fat stores for endurance-based energy. Fat is a stable source of fuel, whereas sugar is a very unstable source of fuel. Burning fat decreases the risk of overwhelming the body, raising the blood sugar and accelerating mental aging.
- Step Five: Nutritional Support
There are many nutritional supplements that support stable blood sugar, memory, and mental clarity. I would suggest researching the following, all of which I have written extensively about in the articles on my website: Gymnema sylvestre, Cinnamon, Chromium, Alpha-Lipoic acid, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Turmeric, Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), Brahmi (Centella asiatica).
- Step Six: Feeding the Brain with an Alternative Fuel Source
Some very exciting research done by Kieran Clarke of Oxford University found that coconut oil offered unique benefits for mental cognitive function in elderly people with compromised mental status. Coconut oil delivers energy into the bloodstream as ketones – an energy supply derived from fats rather than sugar.
With accelerated cognitive aging, the brain becomes somewhat insulin-resistant (meaning it cannot get its energy from sugar). Coconut oil delivers energy via fats, an alternate brain fuel. This has researchers excited.
Dr. Beverly Teter, a lipid biochemist and researcher, says that the benefits they are seeing with coconut oil as an alternative brain fuel could potentially be applied to a variety of mental and cognitive concerns.