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More Research Linking High Sugar Intake, Diabetes, and Alzheimer’s

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Photo credit: Flickr / litonstock

We’ve been here before. I’m sad that we’re here again, and will likely keep making our way back to this connection in the near future.

From The Atlantic:

A longitudinal study, published […] in the journal Diabetologia, followed 5,189 people over 10 years and found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar—whether or not their blood-sugar level technically made them diabetic. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline.




Melissa Schilling, a professor at New York University, performed her own review of studies connecting diabetes to Alzheimer’s in 2016. She sought to reconcile two confusing trends. People who have type 2 diabetes are about twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s, and people who have diabetes and are treated with insulin are also more likely to get Alzheimer’s, suggesting elevated insulin plays a role in Alzheimer’s. In fact, many studies have found that elevated insulin, or “hyperinsulinemia,” significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, people with type 1 diabetes, who don’t make insulin at all, are also thought to have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. How could these both be true?


Schilling posits this happens because of the insulin-degrading enzyme, a product of insulin that breaks down both insulin and amyloid proteins in the brain—the same proteins that clump up and lead to Alzheimer’s disease. People who don’t have enough insulin, like those whose bodies’ ability to produce insulin has been tapped out by diabetes, aren’t going to make enough of this enzyme to break up those brain clumps. Meanwhile, in people who use insulin to treat their diabetes and end up with a surplus of insulin, most of this enzyme gets used up breaking that insulin down, leaving not enough enzyme to address those amyloid brain clumps.


According to Schilling, this can happen even in people who don’t have diabetes yet—who are in a state known as “prediabetes.” It simply means your blood sugar is higher than normal, and it’s something that affects roughly 86 million Americans. [source]

As I always do, here are a few important notes about this:

1—It’s really important to understand that what they believe is happening, is related to the abundance of insulin the body has to produce in response to the unnecessary influx of sugar present in the blood stream. Be sure you understand how diabetes happens, and what causes it.

2—That sugar gets in your blood stream because of what you’re eating.

3—If you are eating a highly processed diet, with lots of shelf-stable boxes and cans, or lots of re-heatables and microwaveable meals, then chances are very high you’re eating way more sugar than you think.

4—It’s also worth noting that all carbs convert to the kind of sugar your body responds to by overproducing insulin.

However, let’s make sure we’re clear about this: 1 pound of Brussels sprouts is less than a tenth of the calories in a pound of bread, because the Brussels sprouts are mostly water and indigestible plant material. Fiber. So, even if you ate a pound of Brussels sprouts, it wouldn’t and couldn’t trigger the same response as what you’d otherwise get from a pound of bread.

5—And this, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely why a calorie is not, in fact, merely “a calorie.” If our bodies develop unhealthy attachments to substances that, in large quantities, cause this kind of degenerative condition in our brains, who do we help by fooling ourselves into believing 200 calories of this carb is the same as 200 calories from this other carb source?

Your bodies need sugar—that’s why your body can, essentially, convert everything to a form of sugar if it needs to—but getting it in the large quantities that are present in the Standard American Diet has its dangers*. If this research proves out, you can add this to the list… unfortunately.

*Then, think about the food deserts, and how the people least likely to have the health care necessary to deal with these risks are also the ones most likely to be eating this diet. Sigh.

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