February 8, 2023

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How sugar damages your brain and fuels the Alzheimer’s epidemic

Alzheimer’s disease, a severe form of dementia, will affect more than 6 million Americans, according to 2022 statistics.1 One in nine seniors over the age of 65 will have Alzheimer’s; and the disease kills more than breast and prostate cancer combined.

A growing body of research suggests there is a strong link between your diet and your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, through similar pathways that cause type 2 diabetes. 73 percent of people with Alzheimer’s are over 75 years old; two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

Contrary to popular belief, your brain doesn’t need glucose and actually functions better by burning alternative fuels, specifically ketones, which your body makes in response to digesting healthy fats.

According to experts at the Emory School of Medicine, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are linked to proteins that regulate glucose metabolism. They had previously found that abnormalities in the process by which the brain breaks down glucose were linked to amyloid plaques in the brain and the onset of memory loss.

Interestingly, Alzheimer’s disease was tentatively dubbed “type 3 diabetes” in early 20052 when researchers discovered that your brain produces insulin along with your pancreas, and this brain insulin is necessary for brain cells to survive.

“What we found is that insulin is not only produced in the pancreas, but also in the brain,” researchers said in a press release at the time. “And we discovered that insulin and its growth factors, which are necessary for surviving brain cells, contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s.”

In your brain, insulin helps the uptake of glucose into neurons and the regulation of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, which are crucial for memory and learning. Because of this, the reduction in insulin levels in your brain affects your cognition.