In the United States, nearly one in four people have diabetes, or are pre-diabetic.
Recent data indicates that type 2 diabetes in people ages 10-19 increased by 30 percent from 2001 to 2009. This is not only an American problem; in the UK, more than one-third of adults are pre-diabetic. Rates of diabetes are rising in developed nations all over the world.
One of the complications associated with type 2 diabetes is an increased risk for dementia, or a decline in memory. One study found that diabetes ages the brain about five years faster than normal. Research has also shown that type 2 diabetics lose more brain volume with age than they would lose if they were diabetes free. Dr. Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology, said the following regarding the data: “The lesson is that to have a healthy brain when you’re 70, you need to eat right and exercise when you’re 50.
There is a substantial cognitive decline associated with diabetes, pre-diabetes and poor glucose control in people with diabetes. And we know how to prevent or delay the diabetes associated with this decline…”
Diabetes is not the only factor in brain function loss and dementia. One important factor is the health of your blood vessels. Healthy, properly-functioning blood vessels mean a healthy brain. In fact, the test that predicts your future risk of heart disease is better at predicting your risk of dementia than a specific dementia-risk test. Researches think that the mechanism behind diabetes speeding up dementia is the damage it causes to small blood vessels in the brain.
The best predictor of diabetes is being obese or overweight. In the United States, one-third of teens and children, and more than two-thirds of adults, are either overweight or obese. Too much processed food, too little activity, and inappropriate food selections are causing the obesity epidemic to grow, and it’s not surprise that rates of diabetes are increasing as well.
With everything we’ve learned about the dangers of diabetes, one would think that traditional medication and treatment of diabetes would be a good thing; however, it seems to be counterproductive. Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, and issues with leptin signaling, caused by chronically high insulin levels. This is why treating diabetes with insulin, as is commonly done, might be making the problem that much worse.
In place of medication, lifestyle changes are just as effective for preventing type 2 diabetes. Most recently, a meta-analysis published in Diabetologia found that diet and exercise lowers blood sugar levels and prevents diabetes in pre-diabetics as effectively as diabetic medications in both genders. Avoiding sugar, especially process fructose, is vitally important. It is also important that regular exercise becomes a part of the lifestyle.
In terms of nutrition, one very important factor is magnesium intake. Magnesium is very important in many cellular functions, and is required for proper function of insulin receptors in the body. A deficiency in magnesium can cause your metabolism function to be impaired, and increase risk of type 2 diabetes. If dietary intake is low, it may be worth supplementing with magnesium to increase levels to the proper amount. Research suggests that many would benefit from a magnesium intake of around 700mg per day.
In addition to the connection between diabetes and dementia, research is also suggesting that there is a connection between diet and risk of Alzheimer’s disease, via similar pathways that cause type 2 diabetes. In 2005 researches learned the brain produces insulin, which is necessary for survival of the brain cells. Reduced levels of insulin in the brain lead to reduced brain function, and researches are learning that the same dietary factors that can lead to a risk of diabetes, can also lead to insulin issues in the brain. They say that when the liver is busy processing fructose, it cannot make cholesterol, which is vitally important for brain function. This shows that high fructose intake can not only increase risk of diabetes, but can also decrease brain function.
There are several dietary steps you can take to improve your insulin sensitivity, leptin levels, and overall health. These are steps that can greatly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, as well as provide a whole host of other health benefits.
• Swap out all processed foods, grains, and foods high in fructose for whole, unprocessed food sources. If you’re insulin or leptin resistant, or diabetic, it would be a good idea to limit total fructose intake to 15 grams per day. For others, limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less.
• Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein. Good sources of protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. When possible, try to find organically raised, grass-fed sources, as these will have a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
• Consume high levels of quality fats. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, animal fat such as found in fish and grass-fed red meat, avocados, butter/nut butters, and nuts.
• Consume as many non-starchy vegetables as you want.
• Exercise regularly, and with intensity. Studies have shown that exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, even if there is not significant weight loss. A number of studies have also shown that exercise can enhance memory, promote new brain cell growth, and help prevent brain deterioration associated with aging.
• Improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. The common Western diet has too many omega-6 fats, and too little omega-3 fats. To remedy this, reduce your consumption of vegetable oils, and increase your intake of animal-based omega-3, such as fish oil.
• Be sure to maintain optimal vitamin D levels year-round.
• Get adequate sleep every night.
• Maintain a healthy body weight.
• Incorporate intermittent fasting.
• Optimize your gut health. Ensure optimal levels of good bacteria by consuming fermented foods, or supplementing with a probiotic supplement that contains live bacteria.