If you’re concerned about developing memory and cognitive problems as you age, you have good reason to be worried. Each year, more than 7.5 million people worldwide are diagnosed with some form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. Most troubling is that these numbers are skyrocketing along with rates of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Is there a link between Alzheimer’s and these metabolic conditions? A growing number of scientists think so, and new research shows that all of these degenerative conditions share a common culprit: insulin dysfunction and related complications.
Even though Alzheimer’s is a complex illness that continues to puzzle researchers, an expanding body of data points to the role of insulin dysfunction throughout all stages of this disease. That’s why experts recently dubbed Alzheimer’s “type-3 diabetes.”
Insulin is the hormone that tells cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar). But when too much glucose persists in the blood for too long, usually from an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, cells begin to ignore insulin, becoming insulin-resistant – a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Insulin production then increases and eventually burns out, often leading to insulin deficiency or dysfunction.
When we have problems with insulin function, cells can’t absorb glucose properly. This leads to a buildup of glucose in the body, triggering a cascade of problems, including chronic inflammation and damage to the circulatory system, tissues and organs — including the brain. Progressive insulin dysfunction and related metabolic and inflammatory problems in the brain have been observed in patients with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially, insulin dysfunction in the brain starves neurons of energy and fuels other features of dementia such as brain cell death, DNA damage, inflammation, harmful genetic signaling and the formation of plaques in the brain, characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Experimental treatments with anti-diabetes drugs that improve insulin function have been shown to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, as an integrative physician, I recommend non-pharmaceutical therapies for prevention and long-term maintenance. We can use diet, lifestyle adjustments and certain supplements to improve insulin sensitivity, support glucose balance and reduce inflammation. These solutions may not reverse Alzheimer’s disease or dementia per se, but they can support and protect your brain and nervous system over time while controlling risk factors related to diabetes, metabolic health, obesity and overall longevity.
A low-glycemic (low sugar) diet is essential for maintaining glucose and insulin function, as well as for supporting cognitive and overall health. The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks foods according to how quickly they increase blood sugar levels after you eat.
High GI foods (white rice, white potatoes, refined sugars) are rapidly digested and absorbed; and they cause blood sugar levels to spike, leading to insulin resistance and inflammation. In fact, excess sugar is shown to significantly damage brain cells. Low-GI foods (green vegetables, fiber-rich foods, plant proteins) on the other hand, are digested slowly and gradually raise blood sugar and insulin levels. Low GI foods offer proven benefits for weight control, disease prevention and overall health.
Regular, gentle exercise improves insulin function and also supports cognitive health by increasing circulation to the brain. Dancing, in particular, is an excellent combination of mental and physical exercise that supports numerous areas of the brain and body, and has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Healthy stress relief is also critical, because chronic stress fuels inflammation and metabolic imbalances. Things like social activities, music and meditation are powerful tools shown to reduce risk factors for diabetes, Alzheimer’s and countless other conditions.
Herbs And Nutrients
A number of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic botanicals promote healthy glucose metabolism and improve insulin function. I recommend ingredients such as kudzu root, astragalus root, fenugreek seed, cinnamon bark and medicinal mushrooms such as maitake, tremella and cordyceps.
In addition, certain nutrients and compounds have been shown to support insulin and glucose function:
- L-Taurine helps maintain healthy glucose and lipid levels.
- Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that plays a vital role in insulin function.
- Chromium improves glucose regulation and contributes to healthy metabolism.
- Alginates from seaweed help reduce glucose spikes.
I recommend a specific metabolic control supplement containing these and other ingredients. This unique blend is formulated to support healthy blood sugar balance, reduce junk food cravings, aid in the digestion/absorption of sugars and fats, promote healthy insulin function, and supply important antioxidants for added protection.
Nutritional and lifestyle interventions are the best options to help protect your brain while supporting overall health and longevity, providing comprehensive support against “type-3 diabetes.”