Dr. Laura: How Sugar Ages the Brain

Vulnerable populations with long term unmanaged blood sugar levels are subject to brain atrophy (shrinkage) and accelerated brain changes including memory loss and cognitive decline.

Memory Lapses?

Vulnerable populations with long term unmanaged blood sugar levels are subject to accelerated brain changes including memory loss and cognitive decline. 

Who’s most at risk?

Most at risk are those with Diabetes type I and II monitor sugar regularly and those with metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease. 

But that’s not all. 

Anyone with long term fluctuating blood sugar levels could be at risk for cognitive decline. So those with chronic stress are also at risk. Stress elevates cortisol, which subsequently activates sugar into the blood stream. This is really helpful when we need the energy to physically run from the tiger.  However, in our day in age, the tiger is more likely to be the boss, the lack of sleep, the poor diet, or the overscheduled.  Stress, namely long-term cortisol release, affects the microbiome. Certain drugs like antibiotics and oral birth control pills can also change the microbiome. Shifts in populations of gut bacteria can evidently impact blood glucose regulation. Overgrowth of candida can make us crave sugars and leave us in a state of flux or what we have now termed “hangry”. 

If you are the hangry type, you likely have issues with blood sugar. 

A state of blood sugar surges and crashes overtime will lead to unfortunate hippocampus affects, namely sugar induced shrinkage and memory challenges. 

Those at risk:

  • long term fluctuating blood sugar levels
  • history of oral birth control use
  • history of antibiotic use
  • diabetic patients on metformin
  • elevated cortisol
  • chronic stress
  • poor diet
  • lack of moderate regular exercise
  • disrupted sleep patterns

What’s a healthy blood sugar level?

Guidelines for healthy levels are subject to some interpretation, however from a functional medicine point of view, HbA1c should be between 4.6 and 5.3% and fasting blood sugar levels are healthiest around 4-6mmol/L. Note that those with red blood cell disease like sickle cell anemia, which change the shape of the blood cell, HbA1c is not a reliable marker and other markers like triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar levels must be taken into account. 

Protect your brain

Protect memory and cognition with adequate blood supply, high levels ofanthocyanins, appropriate levels of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and a diet low in sugar and high in fibre, protein and healthy fats. Caution with drugs like metformin, which help regulate blood sugar in diabetics and is associated with cognitive decline. Apparently, this could be due to a number of factors, and not just the drug directly; it is therefore important to monitor B2 (riboflavin), B6, B12 when on metformin. 

It is important to include in the diet:

  • high levels of anthocyanins
  • plant powers found in dark blue and purple fruits and vegetables
  • consistent intake of B-vitamins 
  • egg yolks, red meat, liver, clams, mussels, avocados and dark leafy greens
  • daily dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • cold water fatty fish like salmon and sardines
  • flax, hemp and walnut

Is diet alone enough?

Is diet enough to keep up with the demands of cognitive decline? It is difficult to know as diets of many individuals need to be followed for years and it is difficult to control what people eat on a daily basis for any length of time. First and fore most get what you can from the diet, yes, this is critical as the body knows best how to get nutrients from food. Insulin sensitivity is an important factor in blood glucose regulation and a short-term keto diet and or fasting is proven to be effective method to reset it. 

Reduce the risk factors as indicated above and get help to re-set the microbiome. That means create a sleep routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. Move your body every day for about 30 minutes. It means to have space in the day that is not filled with tasks and demands. Take appropriate supplements where diet falls short or medications deplete. 

Memory and cognition decline over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. So too should your changes and lifestyle reflect a long-term plan. If you feel you need help, Naturopathic Doctors are trained in lifestyle and laboratory analysis, diet, nutrition and nutraceuticals. 

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND is a registered naturopathic doctor with a functional medicine approach.  She has advanced training in pharmaceuticals, is a certified HeartMath Practitioner and a Certified Gluten Free Practitioner  and holds the designation of ADAPT Trained Practitioner from Kresser Institute, the only functional medicine and ancestral health training company.

References:

Cui X, Abduljalil A, Manor BD, Peng CK, Novak V. Multi-scale glycemic variability: a link to gray matter atrophy and cognitive decline in type 2 diabetes. PLoS One. 2014;9(1):e86284. Published 2014 Jan 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086284

Zhao X, Han Q, Lv Y, Sun L, Gang X, Wang G. Biomarkers for cognitive decline in patients with diabetes mellitus: evidence from clinical studies. Oncotarget. 2017;9(7):7710–7726. Published 2017 Dec 14. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.23284