How Sugar Ages Your Brain

  • 24 Aug 2015
  • Reading time 9 mins
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Sugar, like petrol, is dangerous stuff. It’s the fuel your brain runs off - that’s why you can’t think straight when you haven’t eaten for hours. But if it is eaten in excess, it can literally burn your brain – and the evidence shows that this is exactly what happens in many people who develop Alzheimer’s.

Excessive amounts of sugar damage the brain partly because it forms toxic compounds called ‘Advanced Glycation End-products’, or AGEs and also because of the harmful effects of too much insulin, the hormone that is released when your blood sugar levels goes high. Think of glucose, or blood sugar, as high-octane fuel. The goal of good nutrition is to deliver ‘slow-releasing’ carbohydrates that gradually break down into pure glucose fuel, which seeps into the bloodstream and is then escorted into cells to help keep your energy high. Too much glucose overloads brain cells, called neurons, which are less capable of dealing with the overload than muscle cells. This is called glucose neurotoxicity. 1 This is backed up by studies that show higher blood glucose levels are associated with less functioning brain tissue in critical areas of the brain. 2

The hormone insulin escorts glucose into cells, either ensuring hungry cells get their due, or dumping excess glucose into storage. It’s a careful balancing act, and one that’s likely to go wrong if you keep eating sugary or refined carbohydrates. The more you eat these the higher your insulin levels and the more often you’ll have peaks in your blood sugar levels, followed by troughs. And this seesawing will leave you tired and unable to concentrate, eventually experiencing ‘blank-mind’ episodes and fading memory. Gradually your body will become less and less responsive to its own insulin – and develop ‘insulin resistance’. Someone in the grip of insulin resistance will produce more insulin in an attempt to get a response, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia, and get rebound blood sugar lows (hypoglycemia). Eventually, they will become so insulin resistant their blood sugar levels don’t go down as they should. Type 2 diabetes is the result.

The bitter truth about sugar

So, what’s all this got to do with preventing Alzheimer’s? The answer is everything. Being insulin resistant or diabetic, having hyperinsulinema or hypoglycemia, have all been shown to tremendously increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

There are probably many reasons why an upset in blood sugar control damages the brain, but one that stands out is the fact that occasional blood sugar peaks actually sugar-coat ......

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