If you have diabetes — or would like to prevent the disease altogether — current research has added yet another reason to keep blood sugar levels in check: heightened risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
By identifying the toxic byproducts created when sugars combine with proteins or fat, researchers have zeroed in on a major culprit behind the brain damage caused by diabetes, as well as disorders of the cardiovascular system, kidney and liver. Found in a wide range of processed foods and animal products, we’re ingesting more of these toxins than ever before. But take heart, a few simple steps can significantly reduce exposure and counteract the damage that’s already occurred.
Scientists Agree, High Blood Sugar is Bad News for Cognitive Health
A multitude of studies over the last decade have shown a strong association between diabetes, high insulin levels and a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s. What’s more, they’ve discovered why.
“Scientists from Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA, reported that diabetic individuals with very poor blood sugar control experience a dramatically increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Their eight-year study, which tracked 22,852 patients aged 50 or above with type II diabetes, sought to determine whether elevated glycosylated hemoglobin, a marker of long-term blood sugar control, correlated with an increased risk of dementia. They found that patients with very poor blood sugar control were more likely to develop dementia. … According to the study authors, “Effective blood sugar control may lower risk of another diabetes-associated complication — dementia.””
Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City have isolated toxic metabolic byproducts — advanced glycation end products (AGEs) — which are produced in diabetic patients and those with Alzheimer’s. Lab tests suggest that AGEs correlate to the formation of Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles. When the team evaluated 200 cognitively healthy people over the age of 70 using memory tests, they discovered that those with high AGE levels performed significantly worse than participants with low AGE levels. Gender, educational level, heart disease and related conditions (like high blood pressure) were taken into account. The researcher concluded that lifestyle and dietary interventions, which lower advanced glycation end products, may be powerful tools in preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, the Boston University School of Public Health discovered that patients who use thiazolidenedione (TZD) drugs to reduce their blood sugar levels had lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. TZDs are used in combination with diet modifications and exercise to treat type II diabetes. The drugs help the body’s cells to utilize insulin more effectively, thereby removing excess sugar from the blood. Researchers also believe TZDs may affect inflammation in the brain, which is linked with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
And this study in 2004 investigated the correlation between type II diabetes, high insulin levels, and Alzheimer’s. “A total of 683 men and women were followed and examined for signs of Alzheimer’s and increased insulin levels. As in the earlier study, the scientists found that high insulin levels, which are intimately connected to type II diabetes, were significantly correlated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”
Researchers are finding that advanced glycation end products are not only playing a damaging role in diabetes and Alzheimer’s, but also devastate the nervous system, heart, kidneys and eyes. Created when proteins or fats combine with sugars, ACEs impede the normal functioning of cells. Formation of ACEs encourage aging of the tissues and stiffening of blood vessels, along with promoting inflammatory signaling — which may contribute to tissue damage and a range of cancers. Furthermore, AGEs trigger the accumulation of dangerous beta amyloid plaque in the brain, which is associated not only with the progressive dementia of Alzheimer’s, but Lou Gehrig’s disease as well. The key for optimal health is to balance blood sugar levels, while also reducing exposure to the formation and ingestion of AGEs. Here’s how.
Minimizing AGEs Through Food and Lifestyle Choices
With a few simple adjustments to diet and lifestyle habits, we can significantly lower the ingestion and formation of dangerous AGEs in the body. Tobacco smoke is a major player in giving rise to reactive AGEs, mainly due to the combustion of a range of toxic substances. As a result, smokers — who are also diabetic — have a higher risk of AGE deposits in the arteries and eyes.
Additionally, specific foods and cooking methods are a source of AGEs. Animal products, along with sugary and highly processed foods, are particularly rife with the toxin. Moreover, meat that is high in fat and protein is prone to the formation of AGEs when cooked — especially when high temperatures are involved — like roasting, grilling and broiling. Food manufacturers realized decades ago that the flavor of natural foods is enhanced when synthetic AGEs are incorporated, so the level of these toxins consumed over the last fifty years has increased substantially.
Keeping blood sugar levels in-check and preventing insulin resistance is key. Cinnamon, regular exercise and fish oil can help. As can magnesium, chromium and lipoic acid. And carnosine helps prevent the formation of advanced glycation end products.
If you would like to reduce AGEs in your diet, Today’s Dietician offers these tips:
- Aim for “moist heat” at lower temperatures when cooking — such as steaming and boiling. Researchers found the use of dry heat cooking methods — grilling, broiling, roasting — creates the highest AGE formation.
- Opt for more fruits, vegetables and grains, which maintain low AGE levels after cooking.
- Use a slow cooker. The low temperature and moist heat will help reduce AGE formation, as will less oil needed for cooking. It’s also a good alternative to convenience foods (which are high in AGEs) when time is tight.
- Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables, which contain crucial phytonutrients. One in particular, iridoids, which are found in dark blueberries, cranberries and noni fruit, are particularly important since they lower AGEs in the body.
- Add an acidic ingredient while cooking — like vinegar or lemon juice — to help reduce the level of AGEs. If you need to cook food with a dry heat method, an acid-baside marinade with help reduce AGE levels.
- Avoid browning or charring food, which indicates AGEs are present.
“In addition, people who are sleep deprived have higher circulating AGEs”, says Pat Baird, MA, RD, FADA. “Sleep is the time when the body does most of its tissue growth and repair, making it better able to defend itself against AGEs. Sleep, daily activity, and stress reduction play important roles, along with diet, to reduce AGEs.”