How sugar is putting you at risk of dementia

How sugar is putting you at risk of dementia

When it comes to foods, there’s not much more alluring than a sugary snack. It not only gives us the sweet taste that we crave, but it also gives us a short spike in our energy levels. But, as we all know, too much sugar is bad for our health.

We know that too much of it can cause unplanned weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and more. These conditions can be seriously detrimental to our health, but with the right medication and lifestyle changes, they are easily managed.

However, you may be surprised to learn that too much sugar can also increase your risk of dementia.

Unlike the conditions mentioned above, our abilities to control and treat the causes of dementia are very limited – meaning the disease is currently incurable. But one of the best ways to tackle dementia – especially for those who live with dementia or are living with a loved one with dementia – is to reduce the risks that speed up the development of dementia.

Too much sugar is now understood to be one such risk. But why? And how can you reduce that risk for you or a loved one?

Understanding sugar

Before we get to the research, let’s quickly learn a bit more about sugar. It’s a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in all sorts of food products – veg, fruit, dairy and grains. However, it’s also a huge staple of processed foods.

Glucose is but one type of monosaccharide, also known as a one-molecule sugar, often found in food. Glucose combined with the other two monosaccharides galactose and fructose make up all forms of carbohydrates. They can bond with each other and themselves to make more complex carbohydrates. That, however, doesn’t mean that all carbohydrates are processed the same by our bodies.

For example, the sugars found in sweets or a soft drink cause spikes in our blood sugar levels. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, found in foods like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, are absorbed at a much slower rate.

Think of the sweet treats as sprinters, the complex carbs as marathon runners, and the finishing line as our hunger. Our sugar-spiking foods will sprint very fast, causing us to feel hungry and crave more sugar once they hit the finish line. Complex carbs, on the other hand, will run a marathon pace, taking longer to reach the finish line and, therefore, making us feel fuller for longer.

The research behind sugar’s link to dementia

While the research linking sugar and dementia has only really come to be scientifically accepted in recent years, the similarities of symptoms between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease (a common type of dementia) have been noted by doctors for decades. This led many to believe that there was likely a link between high levels of glucose in the brain and Alzheimer’s.

To understand this link, let’s look at a few studies that examined the relationship between sugar and dementia.

One such study, conducted by the National Institute of Ageing in the USA, found that there was a link between the proteins that are thought to trigger Alzheimer’s disease and the abnormalities in how our brains deconstruct glucose.

The study in Maryland found that lower rates of glycolysis (the primary process by which the brain breaks down glucose) and higher glucose levels in the brain correlated to more severe beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles found in the brains of those living with Alzheimer’s disease. The research could prove valuable in developing ways to treat the disease and even allow for early detection. It may also have the by-product of encouraging those living with dementia, or loved ones who support a person living with dementia, to alter their diets as a way of possibly slowing down the development of symptoms.

A second study, by Wuxiang Xie of Imperial College London, found that those who had a high level of blood sugar had a speedier decline in their cognitive abilities when compared to those with normal blood sugar.

Additional studies of diabetes support these findings – suggesting that those living with type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and those who receive insulin were also at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Please note that researchers from the first study cautioned that it’s not yet completely clear if abnormalities in the brain’s glucose metabolism are definitively linked to Alzheimer’s symptoms or progression speed.

Reducing your sugar intake

While we already know that too much sugar isn’t good for our physical health, the suggested relationship between Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and sugar outlines why those already at risk of, or are already living with dementia need to be more careful with what they eat. However, naturally occurring sugar is something our bodies still require and, as such, moderation is key.

To reduce the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, consider altering your diet to reduce your sugar intake. You can replace soft drinks, energy drinks and sweetened teas with water and unsweetened tea and sugary snacks with a trail mix of nuts and raisins.

If you are supporting someone else – such as an older person or a person living with dementia – the risk factors of developing dementia could be higher for them. Keeping track of what they eat and assisting them in maintaining a healthy diet can definitely be a challenge without professional help.

One way to tackle this is to hire a carer to check-in with your loved one on a daily basis. A carer can help your loved one by shopping for healthy foods and preparing their meals – ensuring that they’re eating right.

Better Healthcare specialises in nutrition

Better Healthcare’s team of qualified care specialists work with clients of all ages by supporting them in their everyday lives – including their dietary and nutritional needs.

Our carers help patients around the home, prepare, cook and/or assist with meals, and can even create or follow a food chart to ensure your loved ones get all the right nutrients and less of the bad ones – like excessive amounts of refined sugar.

We specialise in working with older people and those living with dementia at home to ensure that they stay as healthy as they can be. Our service is bespoke – meaning our care workers can be around as often as you prefer.

If you’d like to learn more about Better Healthcare Services and what support we can offer to your or your loved one, call us on 0800 668 1234 to talk to one of our friendly advisers today. Or, if you’d like to speak to someone locally, simply see below and get in touch with your closest Better Healthcare Services office today.

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This post is not health advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current healthcare issues.