Researchers at Rush University followed 837 patients with 19 different tests for memory and other brain functions. They found that higher consumption of foods and drinks with added sugars was associated with greater loss of ability to recognize objects and remember facts, and with greater risk for developing dementia (Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, July 29, 2021). Other studies show that the high rise in blood sugar that is part of Type II diabetes can cause loss of brain function and dementia (Neurology, Jul 1, 2021;10.1212). Non-diabetics who have high blood sugar levels are also at increased risk for becoming demented. In a study of 2067 non-diabetics with follow up of 6.8 years, those with blood sugar levels above 115 were statistically more likely to become demented than those with blood sugar levels at or below 100 (N Engl J Med, Aug 8, 2013;369:540-548).
How Can Sugar Damage Your Brain?
Your body can store only a very small amount of sugar in your muscles and liver. When your muscles and liver are already full and you eat more sugar, your blood sugar level rises. A high rise in blood sugar causes sugar to stick to the outer membranes of cells throughout your body. The more sugar that you eat, the higher the rise in blood sugar and the more sugar sticks to cells to damage them (J Am Coll Nutr, 2005;24(1):22–29). Once there, the sugar cannot get off the cells and is converted eventually to sorbitol that destroys that cell. A high rise in blood sugar increases risk for blood vessel damage (Circulation, 2006;114(6):597–605), strokes (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 1995;92(9):3744–3748), and dementia (Neurobiol Aging, 2011;32(6):763–767). No tissue is spared.
Restricting Sugar Reduces Risk for Dementia
Many other studies show that a diet that restricts added sugars can help to slow loss of mental function with aging (J Alzheimer’s Disease, Jul 21, 2021;82(2):827-839; J Nutr Health Aging, 2018;22(2):222-229), and is associated with reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimers Dement, Sep, 2015;11(9):1007-14). Plant-based diets such as DASH have been associated with reduced likelihood to lose mental function and become demented with aging (Neurology, 2014;83(16):1410-1416). The “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) study showed that a diet that restricts added sugars reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent in those who followed the diet rigorously, and by 35 percent in those who generally followed the diet most of the time (Alzheimers Dement, March 2015;11:1015-1022).
It appears that you may help to delay and perhaps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia with healthful lifestyle choices:
• Eat an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet and limit added sugars
• Exercise regularly
• Engage in lots of activities that require thinking, memory and calculation
• Avoid alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs
• Avoid being overweight
• Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and other heart attack risk factors
Dementia May Be Preventable
Aging and Risk for Dementia