Tuesday, 08 May 2018 00:00

Does a high sugar diet increase risk of dementia?

Currently there are approximately 850 000 people living with dementia in the United Kingdom, with that number set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. Statistics reveal that 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 suffer from dementia, but is their diet, and particularly a diet high in sugar to blame?

The short, summarised answer is: yes. Diet, lifestyle, exercise, sleep patterns and mental stimulation all play a hugely significant role in the onset or development of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s as we age.

However, the good news is that this risk can be greatly mitigated if these factors are kept in-check and a healthy lifestyle balance is maintained. But let’s talk about diet, more specifically – sugar.

It’s an addictive substance, ingrained into our diets from a young age and almost impossible to avoid in most packaged foods of today. But how does a high sugar diet in the elderly contribute to the onset of dementia and what are the risks?

The risk of developing dementia due to a high sugar diet

Studies have linked diets high in unrefined carbohydrates and sugar very closely with the onset of dementia- in fact, the risk of developing the disease increases by a staggering 89% as you age. Unrefined carbohydrates are, essentially, a useless food item to the body as they are converted into sugars and unhealthy fats, which ultimately contribute to a person’s insulin resistance.

Elderly people with high insulin levels in the body are not only at risk of developing diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, but other conditions including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

High sugar diets and dementia

The link between dementia and high sugar diets was discovered in a 2005 study, where the disease was initially termed ‘’Type 3 diabetes’’. During the study, it was revealed that insulin is produced by the brain in order to protect and aid in the survival of brain cells. When insulin levels become too high in the body, a toxic protein called ADDL is produced. This protein actually removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, thereby lowering the insulin level of the brain and contributing to memory and cognitive decline, consistent with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Reduced brain insulin can contribute to the degeneration of brain cells

During the study, 5 190 individuals and their blood sugar levels were tracked over a 10-year period. During this time, the higher a person’s sugar level became, the faster their rate of cognitive decline.

This goes to show that while low insulin levels in the body are a signal of good health, low insulin levels in the brain are the complete opposite. The study went on to prove that people with lower levels of insulin in the brain due to a high sugar diet, were likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Ultimately, high blood glucose levels alter and damage the structure of the brain and its function – namely, the hippocampus. The more compromised its structure, the worse an individual’s memory and cognitive function will become as the hippocampus is responsible for semblance of information, storage of memories and organisation of speech and thoughts.

Preventative strategies to keep dementia at bay

While your diet plays a huge role in the potential onset of dementia as a senior, there are many other factors which can contribute to its development. As you or a loved one begins to age, try and implement these preventative strategies to ward off the onset of diseases such as dementia:

  • Eat healthy, whole foods – ideally organic and chemical free
  • Eat a diet high in healthy fats which help to protect the brain and its functioning
  • Optimise your omega-3 fat levels by taking supplements
  • Ensure your gut is performing at its optimum by taking a daily probiotic
  • Exercise daily –whether it’s a short walk, swim or yoga class
  • Take important supplements such as magnesium and vitamin E
  • Make sure you get enough vitamin D each day, whether through natural sunlight or a heat lamp
  • Optimise your sleep pattern – ensure you get a minimum of 7 hours each night
  • Keep your mind active and challenged each day

As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure

There is plenty of research to prove that high sugar diets contribute to the onset of dementia, but if you implement the above strategies to your own or a loved one’s lifestyle, dementia does not have to become your fate.

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