Elders who eat diets high in sugar are nearly four times as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment—a common precursor of Alzheimer's disease—according to a recent study.
Researchers from the Mayo clinic tracked the eating patterns and cognitive capacity of more than 1,200 Americans aged 70 and older for several years. They discovered that those seniors who consumed more carbohydrates were more likely to experience issues with thinking, memory and judgment than those who ate diets with more protein and fat.
Does this mean that sugar is bad for your brain?
No. In fact, you need sugar in order to think straight.
Depending on the time of day, research has shown that the human brain uses between 11 and 20 percent of the body's available energy to operate smoothly. Much of this energy comes from glucose, a sugar found in carbohydrates and starches.
Glucose is essential for proper mental functioning, according to lead study author, Dr. Rosebud Roberts, Mayo Clinic Epidemiologist. "A high carbohydrate intake could be bad for you because it affects your metabolism and how glucose and insulin function in your brain," she says.
Diabetes of the brain?
The connection between glucose, insulin and brain processing has garnered much attention in recent years. Some medical professionals have even begun to refer to Alzheimer's disease as, "type 3 diabetes."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, diabetics, as well as people who are insulin resistant, or who have consistently high blood sugar have an increased risk for cognitive problems because of:
- Cell-damaging inflammation triggered by excessive blood sugar levels.
- An inability for brain cells to absorb enough sugar to function properly.
- An increased risk for stroke and heart disease, which can interfere with blood flow to the brain.
Research into the relationship between diabetes and dementia is still ongoing.
Good nutrition—it's all about balance
Making healthier lifestyle choices may not be an Alzheimer's panacea, but striving to eat a more nutritious diet can have a significantly positive effect on the physical and mental health of both caregivers and seniors.
Eating healthy doesn't mean sticking to rabbit food and swearing off sweets.
As Roberts points out, a diet is determined by the sum of its individual parts. "It's important that your dietary intake of fats, carbohydrates and proteins is balanced, because each of these macronutrients has a specific role in the body," she says.