Did you know that the chances of developing cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s increases when an individual’s insulin levels decline? The similarities between diabetes and Alzheimer’s are so great that many researchers have been referring to Alzheimer’s as diabetes type 3. A recent study found that type 1 diabetics were 83% more likely to develop dementia as seniors than people without diabetes.
Insulin-like growth factors have also been attributed to cognitive health. These are hormones that manage the effect of growth hormones in our bodies. Growth hormone levels are prone to regular fluctuations depending on a person’s diet and activity levels. Scientists have found that a reduced input of this hormone into the brain may be responsible for dementia and other cognitive health problems. Furthermore, a link has been found between hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and developing beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease.
The key to preventing both diabetes and cognitive-related health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s is to undergo a shift in your lifestyle to ensure you are getting the correct nutrition for your body’s needs, which changes as we age. The American Heart Association also recommends stopping smoking and exercising on a daily basis.
A Low Glycemic Diet that also Boosts Brain Health
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, and according to Dr. Dean Sherzai, is a good example of an effective diet that is rich and balanced in all nutrients required for a healthy mind and body. Martha Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist and creator of the MIND diet, observed a 53% reduction in Alzheimer’s symptoms when patients adhered to the diet; however, even moderate adherence helped by 35%, suggesting that even making small changes to one’s diet can help significantly in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Prediabetics can safely enjoy incorporating the Mediterranean diet, knowing they will be reducing their chances of developing diabetes by up to 50%. The diet is also recommended for diabetics, as the food groups that make up the diet have a low glycemic index and have the potential to combat insulin resistance in diabetics.
The Mediterranean diet is composed of many vegetables: especially dark leafy greens such as arugula, collards, spinach, and kale. Other good vegetables include carrots, celery, beets, broccoli, cucumbers, onions, peas, peppers, and sweet potatoes. When consuming carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, diabetics can eat their meal alongside a glass of lemon water or fermented pickles (such as cucumbers or sauerkraut) to decrease the starch absorption and prevent a sudden spike in blood sugar. Most doctors also recommend choosing carbohydrates that are high in fibre, such as cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, mushrooms, legumes, and whole grains, as high fibre carbohydrates naturally slow down the absorption of starch into glucose.
Fresh vegetables can easily be found in local farmers markets or in any natural food store. Despite this, research has found that only 10% of Americans consume the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables, a worrying statistic considering the high rates of chronic health conditions in the United States.
Dietician, and co-author of the book, “Nourish,” Brenda Davis says she often challenges herself to include as many colourful vegetables as possible whenever cooking up a new dish. This encourages her to be more diverse in her choice of vegetables and ensures she gets a rich variety of nutrients into her diet. Why not challenge yourself the next time you prepare a fruit bowl by making sure you include something of every colour? Some ideas include apples, bananas, cherries, grapes, oranges, melons, peaches, pears, figs, blueberries, and strawberries. However, any fruit that’s currently in season works just as well.
Lipid Dysregulation Causes Memory Loss
According to researcher and neurologist, Dr. Sherzai, almost 90% of Alzheimer’s and a great majority of dementia are caused by lifestyle changes and can be prevented by following a mostly plant-based diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, and avoiding highly processed foods. He believes that by changing your diet, you can achieve complete reversal of most diseases, particularly when it comes to cognitive health and preventing strokes.
Sherzai explains that Alzheimer’s is thought to develop when a person inherits the APOE4 gene that is associated with early onset of the disease. However, not everyone who inherits this gene actually develops Alzheimer’s. Why is this? The reason is primarily believed to be lifestyle-driven with differences in diet and activity levels to be the driving force between whether or not someone actually develops the condition.
The APOE4 gene is responsible for lipid transport in the bloodstream; however, Sherzai states that in people with Alzheimer’s, this process is usually very inefficient. A study from MIT supports this claim as researchers discovered a dramatic difference in lipid processing in APOE4 astrocytes compared to APOE3. A considerable build-up of lipids and cholesterol was observed in APOE4 astrocytes. These accumulated fats also contained more unsaturated fatty acid chains than what is considered normal. Researchers concluded that these changes cause lipid dysregulation inside cells. This can be dangerous for individuals as not only can it increase chances of developing Alzheimer’s, but it can also increase their likelihood of having a stroke. However, Sherzai states that following a Mediterranean diet can help reduce this chance by up to 44%, bringing more attention to the importance of a healthy diet.
Olive Oil Helps Fight Dementia and Diabetes
Olive oil is the primary choice of oil frequently used in the Mediterranean diet and for very good reasons. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed olive oil available and is packed with antioxidants that help fight disease. It has a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids that are very beneficial for heart health. Furthermore, extra virgin olive oil is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to fight against inflammatory-caused diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and dementia. The LDL (low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides help reduce glucose levels, helping to alleviate symptoms of diabetes. Consider choosing organic extra virgin olive oil to maximize nutrients as it’s found to contain much higher levels of tocopherols, polyphenols, and oleic acid than conventionally produced olive oil. These are natural antioxidants present in olive oils.
Grains make up a great portion of the Mediterranean diet, but it’s often advised to opt for intact grains. These are grains that haven’t been ground or processed finely and still carry much of their nutrients. Some examples include wheat berries, barley, quinoa, steel-cut oats, rye berries, amaranth, millet, kamut, and sorghum.
Nuts, berries, and seeds are a good snack choice and are recommended by the MIND diet as they help improve brain power and prevent age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. They have the added bonus of being very low-glycemic, making them ideal for diabetics. They’re also rich sources of protein, fibre, and healthy fats, and should form an important part of your diet. Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almonds help regulate blood glucose levels and are rich in dietary fibre, a crucial element in preventing diabetes. Pumpkin seeds also contain magnesium, copper, and zinc—important minerals for improving brain function.
Rising Blood Sugar Levels Responsible for Diabetes and Alzheimer’s
There is also the belief that rising blood sugar levels are linked to both diabetes type 2 and Alzheimer’s. Scientists have found that aside from the pancreas, the brain also produces insulin, and when insulin levels drop, it can result in food cravings. As dementia progresses, it weakens the part of the brain that is responsible for self-restraint in our diets, making it harder for individuals to restrict their sugar intake. Research has also found possible mild to severe nervous system damage in type 2 diabetics, resulting in impaired blood flow to the brain, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive health conditions. These findings are important as they help both kinds of patients in monitoring diet and lifestyle factors to control or minimize symptoms of disease.
Eating a primarily plant-based diet rich in vegetables has been found to be very beneficial for diabetics as vegetables—particularly ones containing high fibre like carrots, beets, and broccoli—are naturally very low in sugars. The Mediterranean diet is a particularly good diet for diabetics as it’s naturally low in sugars, specifically, in processed sugar. If you need to sweeten your tea or coffee, you may opt for Stevia or monk fruit sweeteners that don’t affect your blood sugar levels.
The Key to a Healthy Mind and Body is Avoiding Processed Food
When choosing meat, try to avoid any packaged processed meat such as hot dogs, ham, bacon, deli meat, and salami, as these may increase your risk of developing chronic diseases like hypertension and heart disease due to their high saturated fat content. Bacon can be enjoyed very minimally as a special treat; however, try to select uncured bacon as it’s less processed and won’t contain artificial nitrates, like in cured bacon. If you have local farms around you, you could sample some of their bacon as it’s likely to be less processed than store-bought packaged meat and a good way to support local agriculture. Centre-cut bacon also contains less fat while still containing plenty of flavour. As with red meat, it may be consumed moderately, and lean cuts are preferred. Poultry is a good choice, as well as fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Other things you should try to avoid are fast food, fried food, and sugary food such as candy and pastries. It is important to avoid these to prevent diabetes.
You may still include dairy in your diet as it is a good source of calcium that is necessary for bone and heart health, but it should be enjoyed moderately. Again, it’s best to avoid processed cheese and opt for fresh goat cheese instead, which is full of protein, niacin, iron, potassium, and calcium. Ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and aged cheddar are also good options. Avoid American cheese or any cheese that lists natural or artificial dyes, preservatives, and stabilizers in their ingredients as these are processed and often a bad choice for your health.
Did you know that diabetics observed a significant decrease in their blood sugar levels after adhering to a Mediterranean diet? The improvement in insulin efficiency was associated with eating less processed food. Going on a short walk after meals may also improve blood sugar levels as walking encourages muscles to use up any glucose in your body for energy, helping you to sustain a healthy blood sugar balance. Exercise also improves cardiovascular health which is very important for older adults.
Why not incorporate small changes in your lifestyle today? Even minor changes can create a big difference in your overall health, so start slow and see the difference for yourself!