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Small Rises in Blood Sugar Cause Memory Loss

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center used magnetic resonance imaging to show that even small rises in blood sugar levels can reduce blood flow to the dentate gyrus, the part of the brain that controls memory (Annals of Neurology, December 2008). This may give us the explanation for memory loss that occurs with aging and why exercise helps to prevent memory loss.

The brain gets more than 98 percent of its energy from a steady supply of sugar circulating in the bloodstream. When blood flow is reduced, the brain is deprived of its source of energy and oxygen, causing injury to brain cells.

When you eat, sugar goes from your intestines into your bloodstream. The rise in blood sugar calls out insulin that drives sugar from your bloodstream into cells, keeping blood sugar levels steady. However, with aging, the body starts to lose its fine ability to control blood sugar, and blood sugar levels can rise too high. However, you are protected when you exercise because contracting muscles draw sugar so rapidly from the bloodstream that your blood sugar level doesn’t rise very high and your pancreas doesn’t need to release very much insulin. This rapid withdrawal of sugar from the bloodstream by exercising muscles is dramatic during exercise and can last up to eighteen hours after you finish exercising.

Hundreds of other studies show that 1) exercise slows loss of memory with aging, 2) diabetes markedly increases risk for dementia, 3) diabetes damages the dentate gyrus, 4) exercise helps to prevent the rise in blood sugar after eating and the associated age-related loss of mental function, 5) regular exercisers suffer far less from age-related memory decline, 6) obesity markedly increases risk of age-related loss of mental function, and 7) exercise helps to prevent and treat obesity. This new study should encourage you to exercise to save your mind.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: You have explained how inflammation can cause heart attacks, cancers and other health problems, but doesn’t exercise cause inflammation by damaging muscle cells?

No! Researchers from Ataturk University in Turkey showed that hard exercise protects you from inflammation by raising blood levels of the antioxidants superoxide dismutase, glutathion peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase (The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, September 2008). During vigorous exercise, food exposed to oxygen is converted to energy by transferring electrons from one chemical to another. If the transferred electron ends up on hydrogen, it is converted to water and is harmless. If it ends up on oxygen, it forms free radicals that can damage your genetic material and cause cell damage. To protect you, your cells produce antioxidants. Exercise protects you from free radicals by causing your cells to produce large amounts of antioxidants.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it safe to hold a cell phone next to your ear?

It may not be. Researchers at the Division of Neurosurgery of Lund University in Sweden exposed rats to mobile phone radiation for two hours a week for more than a year. These rats were not as able as normal rats to remember objects that they had seen previously (MLA Lund University, December 2008). The authors showed previously that radiation from cell phones damages the “blood-brain barrier” to allow blood proteins such as albumin to pass from the blood into the brain. They also found that the radiation damaged nerve cells in the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus. Other studies show that worms exposed to cell phone radiation release heat shock protein, a sign of cell damage. While this data is still controversial, I recommend that you never let the antenna, the source of cell phone radiation, get within two inches of your skin anywhere. Use a wireless ear piece or a cell phone shaped to keep the antenna away from your head.

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Recipe of the Week: 

Quinoa with Eggplant

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

September 9th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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