Recent studies have found that people with diabetes are 4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s!
Since there are over 30 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes, that means nearly 10% of the population has an increased risk. There is also a strong link between Alzheimer’s and insulin resistance, which is a precursor to full-blown diabetes and is even more common.
The shared risk factors and mechanisms behind these conditions are so strongly linked that some scientists have begun calling Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes.
So what does this mean for the millions of people already struggling with diabetes and insulin resistance, and those with a high genetic risk for developing them? Are they doomed to slowly lose their memory, independence, and ability to function while their loved ones watch helplessly?
Absolutely not! The good news is that type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance are almost completely preventable and reversible. By understanding what causes these metabolic conditions and how they contribute to Alzheimer’s, you can decrease your risk for cognitive decline and protect your brain health.
So let’s look at how these conditions are linked and what you can do to reduce your risk.
What are Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance?
Whenever you eat sugar, or foods like grains that are broken down into sugar, your pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream. This hormone signals your cells to take in glucose and lowers the amount of sugar circulating in your bloodstream.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body does one of two things. It no longer produces enough insulin or it doesn’t respond to the insulin that is there. In either case, this causes hyperglycemia which means you have too much glucose (or sugar) circulating in your bloodstream.
Insulin resistance occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but below the threshold for a diabetes diagnosis. Without proper dietary and lifestyle changes, you’re essentially a ticking time bomb.
What is Alzheimer’s?
As anyone who has ever seen a loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s can tell you, it’s a truly heartbreaking disease. Patients lose the ability to think clearly, take in and recall new information, and even recognize their family and friends.
It develops as brain cells and their connections degenerate and die, destroying memory and important cognitive functions.
Alzheimer’s is characterized by the buildup of protein fragments called amyloid plaques between neurons, along with twisted fibers inside of brain cells called neurofibrillary tangles.
How Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance Lead to Alzheimer’s
There are three ways chronically high blood sugar, increased insulin, and decreased insulin sensitivity damage the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s.
1. Insulin Signaling and Neuron Survival
Insulin signaling plays an important role in neuron survival. When insulin levels remain high for an extended period of time this signal is blunted, causing neurons to die.
2. Diversion of IDE
Your body combats high levels of insulin by degrading it with an enzyme called insulin-degrading enzyme or IDE. This enzyme also helps break down a peptide called amyloid-beta which is toxic to neurons and forms the amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s. If IDE is busy degrading insulin, it can’t degrade amyloid-beta.
3. Elevated Glucose
Even with all of that insulin working overtime to keep your blood sugar in check, it’s usually still not enough. That leaves your bloodstream flooded with sugar, particularly glucose, which binds to proteins and produces AGEs, or advanced glycation end-products.
AGEs increase inflammation and cause free radicals to form, damaging cell membranes, reducing the flow of nutrients to your brain, and causing leakiness in the blood-brain barrier.
How to Reduce Your Risk for Alzheimer’s
If you have diabetes, insulin resistance, or a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, proactively managing your blood sugar is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent this debilitating condition.
Alzheimer’s doesn’t suddenly develop in your 70’s or 80’s. It begins when you are much younger and takes years to progress and worsen. That means the time to act is now!
It’s crucial to understand and evaluate your risk factors so that you can start making lifestyle changes before you ever see a decline.
One great place to start is the scale. The primary risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance is being overweight, particularly if you store fat around your midsection. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
Eating a poor diet, living a sedentary lifestyle, dealing with chronic inflammation, and experiencing chronic stress all contribute to excess weight and can put you on the path to developing diabetes and later Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that these are all lifestyle and environmental factors, meaning YOU have the power to change them. Optimizing your diet and nutrition, exercising regularly, relieving stress, and improving sleep have an overwhelmingly positive impact on your blood sugar, metabolic function, and overall health.
To learn more, check out our article with the 6 key strategies we use with our patients to prevent and reverse diabetes naturally.
Many people believe incorrectly that if you develop these conditions or have the genes that make them more likely, there’s nothing you can do about it. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
By taking action now, you can stop the cycle and get back on the road to optimal health and a full life with a bright future.
If you’re ready to make lifestyle changes that will protect your health for years to come, have a positive mindset, and are looking for a provider who really listens to you and offers support and accountability every step of the way, we’d love to work with you!
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About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!