Known to promote obesity and diabetes, researchers are now interested in the association between a high-sugar diet and cognitive decline.
Diabetes and the Aging Brain
Previous research has shown that ingesting large amounts of sugar negatively impacts the brain. Although your brain uses glucose as its primary fuel source, too much of this energy source can do more harm than good. In addition, a high intake of sugar can raise blood pressure levels and promote chronic inflammation, damage the heart, and in turn, the brain.
A key example of sugar’s effect on the brain can be observed in diabetics. Long-term, poorly controlled diabetes will subject the brain to high glucose levels, interfering with the brain’s overall connectivity. Type 2 diabetes, for instance, which is caused by dietary and other environmental variables, has been shown to accelerate brain aging.
This may be expected, as individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes often display poor dietary habits. However, the same is true for people with type 1 diabetes. According to a 2015 study, published in Neurology, the brains of type 1 diabetics showed signs of accelerated aging. These signs correlate with slower information processing.
The MRIs showed that 33 percent of the participants (mean age: 50) displayed markers that indicate damage to the brain’s white matter, compared to just 7 percent of their non-diabetic counterparts. This is why middle-aged individuals living with diabetes should be screened for signs of cognitive impairment.
BrainTest® is an app that can help individuals detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, and other dementia-related conditions. This assessment tool will provide you with a baseline report card so that you can track your thinking and memory across time.
The Relationship Between a High-Sugar Diet and Cognitive Decline
Diabetics experience greater risk factors in relation to heart and brain health compared to the general population, so how does sugar consumption affect those without this insulin-resistant disease?
As stated in one review, the current Western diet is not only causing an exponential rise in diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. Unfortunately, this type of diet, known to be high in sugar and fat, is also leading to poor cognitive function later in life.
One 2018 study, published in Diabetologia, collected data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). In total, 5189 participants were examined (55 percent were female and the mean age was 65.6 years). After taking baseline HbA1c levels and determining cognitive scores, the average follow-up duration was 8.1 years (+/- 2.8 years).
It was determined that increased HbA1c levels were significantly associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline. In comparison to participants with normal glycemia levels, those with prediabetes and diabetes displayed lower memory, orientations, and executive function z scores across time.
Are You Prediabetic?
For those who are prediabetic, blood sugar levels are abnormally high, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Although 84 million American adults currently have prediabetes (which equates to approximately 1 out of 3), lifestyle changes can help you actively prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and other serious health complications.
Some of the greatest risk factors associated with prediabetes include:
- Being overweight
- Being over the age of 45 years
- Having a sibling or parent that currently has type 2 diabetes
- Being active less than three times weekly
- Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes
Unfortunately, those living with prediabetes will often display no signs or symptoms. Once individuals begin to move from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes, they will often experience increased thirst and urination, as well as fatigue and blurred vision.
To remain proactive, you should seek a blood glucose screening test when you are 45 years old. However, an assessment should be completed sooner if you are overweight. There are several tests available, which can help you better determine your specific A1C level and/or your fasting blood sugar level.
You Can Actively Intervene
Like any serious health condition, the sooner you intervene, the better.
If your physician has determined that you are at-risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it is imperative that you:
- Alter your current diet. Significantly cut down on sugary foods and eliminate processed ingredients from your meal plan. Choose foods that are nutrient-dense and high in fiber.
- Become more active, aiming for a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.
- Shed excess weight. This will require key, permanent changes to your current lifestyle. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current body weight can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Quit smoking. This will not only reduce your risk of diabetes but also protect your heart and brain long-term.
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