Dr. Laura: 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.

Those with Diabetes type I and II monitor sugar regularly and those with metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease plus those at risk over 40 and after age 50 are regularly checked by their doctor.

Memory lapses?

What’s a healthy blood sugar level?

Guidelines for healthy levels are subject to some interpretation, however from a functional medicine font of view, HbA1c should be between 4.6 and 5.3% and fasting blood sugar levels are healthiest at less than 6. 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.

Who’s most at risk?

Anyone with long term fluctuating blood sugar levels could be at risk for cognitive decline. Most studies are with diabetic patients as this population has routine checks on levels of sugar in their body. Also, chronic stress elevates cortisol, which subsequently activates sugar into the blood stream. This leads to unfortunate hippocampus affects, namely sugar induced shrinkage and memory challenges. It is possible to evaluate cortisol levels with a 24 hour urine and salivary collection kit such as the DUTCH test offered by Precision Analytical.

  • long term fluctuating blood sugar levels
  • diabetic patients on metformin
  • elevated cortisol
  • chronic stress
  • poor diet

Protect your brain

Protect memory and cognition with adequate blood supply, high levels of anthocyanin, 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 maintain:

  • high levels of anthocyanin
  • consistent intake of B-vitamins
  • daily dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • controlled blood sugar levels

Is diet alone enough?

Anthocyanins are in blueberries, B-vitamins in whole grains and meats, omega-3’s in our fatty cold water fish and flax, walnut and hemp hearts. 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 daily over years. First and foremost get it from the diet, yes, this is critical as the body knows best how to get nutrients from food.

Naturopathic Doctors are trained in 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.



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