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Sugar and Alzheimer’s disease

There are many factors at play in Alzheimer’s disease, and different factors can contribute to varying degrees in different individuals. This is one of the reasons Alzheimer’s is so hard to treat. In his book ‘The End of Alzheimer’s’, Dr Dale Bredesen states that 36 contributing factors have been identified so far, and more are likely to follow. He explains that “high insulin and high glucose are two of the most important risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease”, labelling one of the subtypes of Alzheimer’s as ‘glucotoxic’. So how are insulin and blood glucose involved?

Firstly, having chronically high blood glucose levels leads to increased production of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are proteins and lipids that have been damaged by attachment to sugar. HbA1c is a measure of how much glucose is attached to the haemoglobin of your red blood cells, and so, is a measure of how many AGEs are being produced in the blood. AGEs cause damage to the brain in a number of ways, by promoting inflammation, oxidative stress and direct damage to the brain’s blood vessels.

Impact on your heart


In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.

"Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease," says Dr. Hu.

How sugar actually affects heart health is not completely understood, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver. "Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat," says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease.

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.

"The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Hu.


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