Alzheimer’s: The new diabetes?

If you’re concerned about developing cognitive problems as you age, you have good reason: Each year, over 7.5 million people world-wide are diagnosed with some form of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. What’s most concerning is that these numbers are skyrocketing. But so are the rates of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Is there a link between Alzheimer’s and these metabolic conditions?

A growing number of scientists think so, thanks to new research which shows that all of these degenerative conditions share a common culprit: Insulin dysfunction and related complications. Even though Alzheimer’s is a complex illness that continues to puzzle researchers, an expanding body of data points to the role of insulin dysfunction throughout all stages of this disease. That’s why experts recently dubbed Alzheimer’s, “type-3 diabetes.”

Insulin 101

Insulin is the hormone that tells cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar). But over time, too much glucose in the blood, usually from an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, causes cells to ignore insulin, becoming insulin resistant — a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.  Insulin production then increases and eventually burns out, often leading to insulin deficiency or dysfunction.

When we have problems with insulin function, cells can’t absorb glucose properly. This leads to a build-up of glucose in the body, triggering a cascade of problems including chronic inflammation and damage to the circulatory system, tissues and organs including the brain. Progressive insulin dysfunction and related metabolic and inflammatory problems in the brain have been observed in patients with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially, insulin dysfunction in the brain starves neurons of energy and fuels other features of dementia such as brain cell death, DNA damage, inflammation, harmful genetic signaling, and the formation of plaques in the brain, characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Targeted solutions

Experimental treatments with anti-diabetes drugs which improve insulin function have been shown to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, as an integrative physician I recommend non-pharmaceutical therapies for prevention and long term maintenance. We can use diet, lifestyle adjustments and certain supplements to improve insulin sensitivity, support glucose balance and reduce inflammation. These solutions may not reverse Alzheimer’s disease or dementia per se, but they can support and protect your brain and nervous system over time, while controlling risk factors related to diabetes, metabolic health, obesity and overall longevity.

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Diet

A low-glycemic (low sugar) diet is essential for maintaining glucose and insulin function as well as supporting cognitive and overall health. The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks foods according to how quickly they raise blood sugar levels after eating. High GI foods (white rice, white potatoes, and refined sugars) are rapidly digested and absorbed, and cause blood sugar levels to spike, leading to insulin resistance and inflammation. In fact, excess sugar is shown to significantly damage brain cells. Low-GI foods (green vegetables, fiber rich foods, plant proteins) on the other hand, are digested slowly and gradually raise blood sugar and insulin levels. Low GI foods offer proven benefits for weight control, disease prevention and overall health.

Lifestyle

Regular, gentle exercise improves insulin function and also supports cognitive health by increasing circulation to the brain. Dancing in particular is an excellent combination of mental and physical exercises that support numerous areas of the brain and body, and has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Healthy stress relief is also critical since chronic stress fuels inflammation and metabolic imbalances. Things like social activities, music and meditation are powerful tools shown to reduce risk factors for diabetes, Alzheimer’s and countless other conditions.

Herbs and nutrients

A number of Traditional Chinese and Indian botanicals promote healthy glucose metabolism and improve insulin function. I recommend ingredients such as kudzu root, astragalus root, fenugreek seed, cinnamon bark and medicinal mushrooms such as Maitake, Tremella and Cordyceps. In addition, certain nutrients and compounds are shown to support insulin and glucose function: L-Taurine helps maintain healthy glucose and lipid levels; alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that plays a vital role in insulin function; chromium improves glucose regulation and contributes to healthy metabolism; and alginates from seaweed help reduce glucose spikes.

Nutritional and lifestyle interventions are the best options to help protect your brain while supporting overall health and longevity, providing comprehensive support against “type-3 diabetes.”

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Dr. Isaac Eliaz

By Dr. Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz's comprehensive wellness guides, click here.