How are diabetes and Alzheimer’s linked?
- Insulin plays a large role in the body, including the brain. Insulin regulates sugar, making sure the brain doesn’t get too much, which otherwise could cause damage. The brain processes injected insulin differently than insulin made naturally by the pancreas. Enzymes that break down insulin in the brain are thrown off, opening the door for diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Schizophrenia, migraines, and…Alzheimer’s.
- Inflammation is related to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is tied to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity are all links to Alzheimer’s according to the NIH. Reports say that every extra point of body mass index (BMI) speeds up the onset of Alzheimer’s by almost seven months and women over age 70 have a 36% increased risk for Alzheimer’s for every one point increase in BMI. Reminder: BMI is a measure of body fat that takes your height and weight into account. Calculate yours here.
- WebMD states that high blood sugar levels shrink the hippocampus and amygdala, the two parts of the brain responsible for memory. When levels are out of control, blood flow is also decreased, depriving vital organs and vessels.
- High cortisol levels increase your risk of both type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone.”
How to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s
As with most health risks related to diabetes, you can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s with regular exercise and by improving your diet.
Simply upping your physical fitness reduces all of the Alzheimer’s risk factors people with diabetes face. Exercise lowers cortisol levels, eases inflammation, and improves insulin sensitivity, weight, blood sugar, and circulation. What better reason to start moving?
One style of eating always seems to pop up whenever I am looking for healthy options: the Mediterranean Diet. The Mayo Clinic says this diet is “an eating plan that can help promote health and prevent disease.” The primarily plant-based diet can improve insulin resistance, prevent Alzheimer’s, promote a healthy heart, and is generally beneficial for people with diabetes.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Basically, this style of eating focuses largely on plant sources for food, but allows for healthier animal proteins as well. A typical lunch might be Greek Salad with Chicken and dinner might be Broiled Salmon with Onion Marmalade Over Greens.
- The majority of the diet is composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy plant-based fats (e.g. olive oil), beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, and spices.
- Moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are allowed.
- Grilled seafood and fish are eaten two times per week.
- Red meat and sweets are avoided in general, but can be enjoyed on occasion. If you eat red meat, choose a cut like non-marbled sirloin steak.
- The guidelines say red wine can be enjoyed in moderation, but discuss this with your doctor first. You may be on medications that will be adversely affected by alcohol. Avoid alcohol if you have any liver problems whatsoever (e.g. non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
- Processed foods should be avoided.
- Acceptable snacks might include wild-caught salmon (in pouches), trail mix with nuts and seeds, dill pickles, raw vegetables, and olives.
Yes, diabetes and Alzheimer’s may be linked, but you can reduce your risk. Keep moving, stick to the dietary guidelines above, and cook your own meals at home. Finally, collaborate with your doctor for more ways to prevent Alzheimer’s.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karyn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic who has been educating herself about health and wellness for 14 years. She has been an Emergency Medical Technician for 5 years and is now studying to become a Health and Wellness Specialist. Her aspiration in life is to bring helpful information to those seeking to be as healthy as they can be.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Always discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your doctor first.