The timing is nothing short of cruel. Halloween has passed, leaving households with candy and sweets galore, and the very next day November ushers in National Diabetes Awareness Month. So begins the balancing act of temptation versus healthful choices that comes with the approaching holiday season.
Other than water, just about everything we consume year-round has some form of sugar in it. Our bodies need energy to function properly, and this energy can come from starchy and sugar-containing foods. The pancreas secretes insulin to control the amount of sugar in our blood. Excess sugar is stored in our muscles, but they have a limited capacity. Beyond that limit, insulin resistance can develop. This can result in excess sugar and insulin traveling to your brain.
When neurons in the brain become unable to respond to insulin, Type 3 diabetes, or diabetes of the brain, may occur, according to a 2020 study published by the National Institute of Health.
Like Type 2 diabetes, Type 3 diabetes is also thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but the connection remains unclear. Still, multiple studies have found high sugar intake to be related to overall lower cognitive performance.
Further, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that higher glucose levels in both diabetics and non-diabetics may be a risk factor for dementia. Researchers tracked for seven years more than 2,000 patients whose average age was 76, theorizing that elevated blood sugars promote central nervous system small vessel disease leading to decreased blood flow to the brain. This may contribute to a vascular dementia.
Still, all the news isn’t bad. Brain inflammation and slowed cognition caused by excess blood sugar can be reversed through a proper diet, preferably one with less sugar in it.
The American Heart Association has recommendations to lower the risk for diabetes and dementia by following these seven steps:
1) Manage blood pressure.
2) Control cholesterol, keeping your LDL (bad cholesterol) below 100.
3) Reduce blood sugar by limiting candy bars, sugary drinks, pastries, ice cream, etc.
4) Enjoy a healthful, low-fat diet that emphasizes lean meat, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables.
5) Stop smoking.
6) Maintain an appropriate weight.
7) Be physically active every day. At least 20 minutes per day of walking is a good start. Tai chi and yoga are safe alternatives.
Remember, being active doesn’t always have to be official “exercise.” Try taking the stairs more often, parking further away from the store, and getting up and moving if you’ve been sitting too long.
“It’s common sense,” Dr. David Nathan, a Harvard Medical School professor and the director of the Diabetes Center and Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, stated in a Harvard health blog. “The more active you are and the less sedentary, the more likely it is that your muscles can uptake glucose, and the insulin you make will be more effective.”
Start by reducing your intake of highly refined carbohydrates, especially foods with added sugars such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, or fruit juice concentrates. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from sugar or six teaspoons of sugar per day for women, and 150 calories or nine teaspoons of sugar per day for men. If you’re in the prediabetic or diabetic range, you’ll want to work with a dietitian to determine your exact needs.
As always, before embarking on any exercise program or diet, please consult your healthcare provider.