Is Alzheimer’s a Kind of Mental Diabetes?

There seem to be two schools of thought on the relationship of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The traditional school suspects that diabetes may be a cause, and possibly a significant one, of Alzheimer’s. The newer school hypothesizes that Alzheimer’s is itself actually a kind of diabetes, a Type 3 diabetes, or diabetes of the brain, if you will. The two conditions certainly appear linked in some way: the rate of Alzheimer’s among diabetics is more than double the rate among non-diabetics.

But let’s have some background. Type 1 diabetes is an immune system problem that afflicts only one in 10 diabetics, and is caused primarily by your genes, not your behavior. Type 2 is what hits the other 90 percent, and it is for all practical purposes a disease caused by a high-carbohydrate diet and/or obesity. If Alzheimer’s is indeed a form of diabetes, it may similarly be linked to diet and excess weight.

We already know that statistically, being obese raises one’s odds of impaired brain function. The theory that it might specifically contribute to Alzheimer’s hinges on insulin. Diabetes is the condition wherein your body either fails to produce sufficient insulin, or your cells become insulin-resistant, both of which conditions impede your body’s ability to use sugar as energy, leaving it in your bloodstream where it can cause a variety of problems. What we’ve learned more recently is that when your brain cells become insulin-resistant, things happen that mimic Alzheimer’s to an uncanny degree — confusion, disorientation, memory loss, personality changes, impaired cognition — and that a lack of insulin may be linked to a nasty proteinase plaque that seems to form in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims.

Type 2 diabetes in general, and insulin resistance in particular, are overwhelmingly the result of a diet riddled with sugar and other carbohydrates, mostly in the form of what we call junk food. It’s not hard to connect the dots, and a number of researchers who have done that now speculate that there is a direct causal link between the overconsumption of cheap carbs in junk and processed foods, and mental deterioration, with Alzheimer’s being one possible outcome.

If they’re right, we’ve got one more thing to worry about as a nation, and that is the unprecedented number of Americans who are obese and who will at some point reach the age when dementia and Alzheimer’s manifest themselves. On the other hand, if it can be shown that obesity and the foods that tend to produce it are a primary cause of Alzheimer’s, you’re going to get a lot of people who’ve refused to take their diet and weight seriously suddenly having serious doubts about both.

That’s because Alzheimer’s frankly scares the hell out of a lot of people, many of whom dread it more than death itself. Alzheimer’s is to our mind as cancer is to our body: a terrible wasting affliction, to be avoided even if it means changing our lifestyle somewhat. Alzheimer’s could do to high-carb foods and beverages what cancer did to tobacco: stigmatize it to the point of general revulsion and avoidance. Could all those Doritos and doughnuts and Cokes actually rot your brain? We’re going to find out.

(By Robert S. Wieder for CalorieLab Calorie Counter News)