According to research done at the University of Wisconsin, diabetes may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but not all people who have diabetes get Alzheimer’s. Many of the reasons are still unknown, but more information is now becoming available. The connection is that both conditions can fuel and increase damage to the memory and cognitive functions through insulin resistance; insulin resistance is the inability to use insulin properly, even though it may be abundant in the body.
The brain may not be getting an adequate supply of glucose due to the insulin resistance and it becomes less effective in its thought processes. In diabetes the cells of the muscles and fat do not get proper amounts of glucose due to insulin resistance which makes you tired and hungry. Recent research relates certain food choices to mood disorder and the risk of depression. This can have an affect on cognitive ability and thought process. Depression and reduced memory are increased when a highly processed modern day diet is eaten, according to a large study done in Australia. This includes chips, boxed and bagged foods, pizza, sweets and regular soda. Documentation from the studies also shows memory loss and a decrease in mental health when diets are high in saturated and trans-fats. Refined sugars have a negative affect on brain proteins, which may be the reason for these problems. A book called “The Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter suggests that “processed carbohydrates, sugars and even whole grains increase dementia due to their glycemic index.” This is misleading, and we do not suggest you eliminate whole grains, but further studies are still being done. Eating saturated fats can have a negative impact on the stress response, which will elevate blood sugars due to a rise in cortisol levels.
Let’s look at ways we can possibly help reduce our chances of mood disorders, including depression and developing Alzheimer’s, dementia or memory issues when you have diabetes.
- Look for whole foods that are nutrient dense. Think of it as a dietary pattern not just one food choice over another. Daily staples should include all vegetables and legumes. Legumes are beans, peas and lentils which are high in fiber and need to be counted as carbohydrates. Explore foods you may often avoid like black eye peas, red beans, garbanzo beans or Edamame.
- Add a daily handful of nuts or seeds without salt. They contain Vitamin E which can improve mood and brain function. Walnuts can boost serotonin levels, which can influence mood and appetite. Hazel nuts have protein, linoleic acid, Vitamin E and Vitamin B6, all good for brain function. Almonds have riboflavin which supports memory. Flax seeds contain Omega-3s which help brain function and pumpkin/sunflower seeds contain tryptophan which can help with sleep and better moods.
- Get ample Vitamin B-12, either from foods or a supplement, for brain health. Look for cereals fortified with B-12 including All-Bran which is counted as a carbohydrate. Soy products (tofu) are often fortified with B-12 as well. Include red meat especially lamb in moderation for B-12. Low fat dairy – including yogurt, feta or Swiss cheese and low fat Mozzarella – are good sources. Seafood – including mussels, oysters, tuna, sardines, mackerel, crab and shrimp – has plenty of Vitamin B-12.
- Do not take iron supplements unless directed by your health care provider. Iron can accumulate during aging and increase the risks of brain disorders. Flavonoids from berries (especially blueberries and cranberries) are beneficial and can protect against iron. Turmeric, a spice often used in Indian food is also helpful.
- Decrease foods with saturated fats. Try to limit red meat and remove all the visible fat. Eliminate whole fat dairy products including regular milk and cheeses. Eliminate poultry skin. Eliminate trans-fats. Watch out for fried or battered foods which can lower brain function. Pie crusts, margarine sticks, shortening, cake mixes/frostings, baking mixes for waffles and pancakes should be avoided or limited. Foods including biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, meat jerky sticks and non-dairy creamers are all sources of trans-fats.
- Do not smoke! It is bad for the vascular system in diabetes and the brain.
- Do aerobic exercise 5 days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. Add weight training 2-3 times a week for improved brain power. Get a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day for brain and diabetes health.
- Watch out for heavy metal accumulation from aluminum content in cookware, tea kettles and utensils. Many OTC products including antiperspirants, antacids, anti-diarrhea medications, pain killers and buffered aspirin can contain aluminum. Foods including baking soda, processed cheeses and non-dairy creamers contain metals. Try to get enough calcium and magnesium to negate the effects of these metals.
- Control blood sugars on a daily basis with lifestyle and medications (if needed), and keep your A1C as close to 6.5 – 7% as possible.
- Lose 5 – 10% of your body weight, which improves both conditions.
You can see that there are many similarities to reduce your risks of Alzheimer’s disease / cognitive decline and diabetes. These suggestions may help with your control. Try to practice them to become part of your everyday life. Good Luck!
NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.