How Sugar Ages Your Brain

brain blueA major contributory factor to brain/memory damage and decline is sugar, so I thought I’d explain a little more about why it’s so important to get your sugar intake under control in today’s newsletter.

You can think of sugar as high octane fuel that your brain runs on – that’s why you can’t think straight when you haven’t eaten for hours. But if it is eaten in excess, it can literally burn your brain.

Excessive amounts of sugar damage the brain partly because it forms toxic compounds called ‘Advanced Glycation End-products’, or AGEs and also because of the harmful effects of too much insulin, the hormone that is released when your blood sugar level goes high.  The goal of a good health diet is to deliver ‘slow-releasing’ carbohydrates that gradually break down into pure glucose fuel, which seeps into the bloodstream and is then delivered to cells to help keep your energy high. Too much glucose overloads brain cells, called neurons, which are less capable of dealing with the overload than muscle cells. This is called glucose neurotoxicity.

The hormone insulin delivers glucose into cells, either ensuring hungry cells get what they need, or dumping excess glucose into fat storage. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that’s likely to go wrong if you keep eating sugary or refined carbohydrates. The more you eat these foods, the higher your insulin levels and the more likely you are to have highs and lows in your blood sugar levels. This can leave you tired and unable to concentrate, eventually experiencing ‘blank-mind’ episodes and fading memory. Gradually your body will become less and less responsive to its own insulin – and develop ‘insulin resistance’. Someone in the grip of insulin resistance will produce more insulin in an attempt to get a response, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia, and get rebound blood sugar lows (hypoglycemia). Eventually, they will become so insulin resistant their blood sugar levels don’t go down as they should. Type 2 diabetes is the result.

Being insulin resistant or diabetic, having hyperinsulinema or hypoglycemia, have all been shown to tremendously increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Blood sugar peaks actually sugar-coat proteins, and damage them, creating damaged AGEs. A lifetime of sugar abuse and AGE creation leads to more and more artery and brain damage. The more the arteries become damaged, the worse the circulation to the brain and the less reliable the supply of nutrients becomes. So, ironically, eating too much sugar can lead to temporary glucose starvation to cells, as well as damage caused by excess glycation.

AGEs are not only bad for the brain – they also damage your skin, producing wrinkles and age spots. These damaged proteins produce 50 times the number of free radicals that non-glycated proteins do, and promote inflammation in the brain as well as the skin, joints and other organs.

There has been much research into the links between blood sugar and Alzheimer’s showing that more people with high insulin levels develop dementia when compared to those with normal insulin levels. Also, the people with high insulin levels had the greatest decline in memory.

Why is sugar so addictive?

The desire for something sweet is one of the body’s strongest instincts. Your body and brain are much more responsive to deficiency than to having too much. There’s a simple reason for this. In evolutionary terms, starvation is a much more likely, and threatening, situation than today’s danger of excess. Consequently, we are all programmed to love sugar.

The way this programming works is that sugar causes the release of dopamine and beta-endorphin, two neurotransmitters that make you feel good. So the more you have, the more you want, as you become less and less responsive to it. In short, you become addicted to it and no addiction is easy to break.

Dr Candace Pert says, ‘I consider sugar to be a drug, a highly purified plant product that can become addictive. Relying on an artificial form of glucose – sugar – to give us a quick pick-me-up is analogous to, if not as dangerous as, shooting up heroin.’ Dr Pert is one of the chief scientists involved in the discovery of the central role endorphins play in addiction.

If you are feeling depressed, especially in winter, there’s a good chance your brain levels of serotonin are low. Serotonin is made from a constituent of protein, the amino acid tryptophan. When you eat a carbohydrate food such as a banana, this causes insulin to be released into the bloodstream – and insulin carries tryptophan into the brain.

This may be why depressed people instinctively crave sweet foods to give them a lift. So, if you find sugar improves your mood no end, you are probably low in serotonin. Having depression also increases dementia risk. Increasing the serotonin by supplementing 5-HTP and following a low GL diet are two proven ways to improve your mood.

Summary:
Say no to sugar and go for slow-release carbs
Eat wholefoods – whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables – and avoid refined, white and overcooked foods.
Eat five servings a day of dark green, leafy and root vegetables such as watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans or peppers, raw or lightly cooked.
Eat three or more servings a day of fresh fruit, preferably apples, pears and berries.
Eat four or more servings a day of whole grains such as rice, rye, oats, wholewheat, corn, quinoa, breads, pasta or pulses.
Avoid any form of sugar or added sugar.
Dilute fruit juices and only eat dried fruit infrequently in small quantities, preferably soaked or with a small handful of nuts or seeds.

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