There have been many speculations as to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Currently, there is no cure for the condition and as it progresses it worsens, often causing memory loss, mood swings, aggression and confusion, and eventually leading to death.
Though Alzheimer’s was formerly thought to be a disease of age, a growing body of research now suggests that it may be a metabolic disease – linking it to poor diet. As reported by the Guardian, scientists have even gone so far as to call it type 3 diabetes.
This news is especially concerning as Alzheimer’s currently affects an estimated 35 million people worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 100 million by 2050. Equally alarming are projected growth rates of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. alone, which are also expected to triple in the next several decades.
These speculations are tied to two potential factors: 1) Alzheimer’s causes a lack of natural insulin in the body, or 2) it causes an impairment of the brain’s ability to respond it. Suspicions of the link continue to rise as those who die from Alzheimer’s are often found to have low insulin levels in the brain. This has led researchers to believe that insulin is produced in the brain as well as in the pancreas, explaining why it could play such a crucial role in neuron signaling and cell growth and lifespan, according to Popsci.
Likening Alzheimer’s to diabetes means it could be caused by excessive blood glucose in the body caused by a deficiency of insulin – a hormone naturally produced by the body to alert the liver, muscles and body fat to absorb glucose in the blood. As a result, diabetes sufferers – and perhaps Alzheimer’s sufferers as well – experience either an inability to produce insulin or an inability within the body to respond to insulin signals.
This new research landed on the September cover of New Scientist, pointing out several implications if the link is found factual; one being even more widespread devastation as a result of diabetes, and two, greater financial burden in healthcare costs worldwide.
Diets in Review’s resident pharmacist, Dr. Sarah G. Khan, responds to the news: “This is a tough subject for sure. Diabetes is linked to so many disease states: heart disease, high cholesterol, increased risk of stroke and heart attack, depression, and skin conditions. The list goes on and on,” she said. “To me this makes sense, but it’s difficult to prove. There is no question that junk food has ingredients that are engineered and could be hazardous. I would hope that reports like these will make people less likely to eat junk food.”
In line with this warning, Kahn stresses the importance of being more aware of what we put in our bodies and reading the nutrition labels of packaged foods and junk foods. “I don’t want more studies to show this is true. What I’d like to see is a reverse trend in the occurrence of diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” she said. “We will definitely need more concrete evidence to link these two diseases mostly because Alzheimer’s is neurological while diabetes is a hormone imbalance or lack thereof.”
Harvard neurologist and author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power,” Marie Pasinski, MD, agrees saying, “There is no doubt that our diet directly influences the structure and function of our brain and can impact our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This important study adds to the growing body of evidence that diabetes is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Though the news is shocking, Pasinksi points out the hope this study could potentially provide. “The good news is that diabetes is a largely preventable risk factor – in other words the lifestyle choices we make could directly impact our risk of Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Eating a low glycemic index diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight are important steps we can take to keep our brain healthy and reduce our risk of this devastating disease.”
More research still needs to be done before any solid conclusions can be made. One such effort is on behalf of Imperial College in London where lead investigator Dr. Paul Edison plans to test the effects of the diabetes drug Liraglutide in Alzheimer’s disease. The study is expected to last three years and will be one more piece of the puzzle in this crucial body of research.