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Many of my patients are concerned about Alzheimer’s disease, either for themselves or those they love.
In 2017, over 5 million Americans were living with this degenerative disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. This challenging condition where one slowly loses memory, judgment abilities, and normal function takes a large toll on families all around the world.
To understand why sugar affects the brain, one must understand the basics of insulin.
Insulin is a vital hormone produced by the pancreas. Its main responsibility is to help cells absorb blood sugar, or glucose, for energy. When there is too much sugar and the cells are filled to capacity, this sugar is converted to glycogen, and when there is enough of that, it’s stored as fat.
Insulin also helps the brain by keeping blood vessels leading to the brain healthy. It encourages the brain’s neurons to absorb glucose as needed and helps the brain’s neurons to become stronger. When insulin levels are low, this causes reduced brain function.
When too much sugar is consumed over a long period of time, the cells in the body may become “resistant” to insulin because it’s overactive and the cells become overwhelmed. To make it easier to understand, insulin becomes an annoying salesperson who calls the cells every day to try and sell them more sugar even though they are already filled to the brim. So they begin to ignore insulin completely.
This leaves insulin in high levels in your blood vessels, desperate to get rid of the excess sugar. Too much of a good thing becomes bad and, in the case of insulin and sugar, can lead to the development of dangerous conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study led by a neuropathologist at Brown University, researchers found that when they blocked the path of insulin to rats’ brains, they began experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as neuron deterioration, physical disorientation, and memory loss.
Studies suggest that those who have type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without diabetes.
Another problem with over-consumption of sugar is that it can overwhelm the small intestine. The small intestine has an important task of processing fructose. With natural occurring sugars, like in apples and other fruits, it does this flawlessly in most people. However, when one is consistently eating processed foods and drinks that contain unnatural amounts of sugar, the small intestine gets overloaded and simply cannot process it on its own.
This excess sugar is then sent into the bloodstream, leading to the problems we talked about above, as well as to the liver. When the liver becomes overwhelmed, one can develop fatty liver disease or other complicated health problems.
There is no way around it: over-consumption of sugar is one of the worst things you can do for your health. But it is incredibly easy to eat too much sugar in America because it is added to EVERYTHING. Become conscious of what you are putting into your body. Read the labels. The easiest way to avoid sugar is to focus your diet around whole, homemade, real foods that do not have an ingredients list.
Find this and other health-promoting articles by Dr. Partha Nandi on his website, Ask Dr. Nandi.
A survivor of rheumatic heart disease, Dr. Partha Nandi M.D., F.A.C.P. grew up to become one of America’s leading patient advocates. His devotion towards educating and empowering others to “Be Your Own Health Hero” stemmed from the empathy and care he received from his father and his first Health Hero, Dr. Chandrasekhar, during his 10 day stay in the hospital and yearlong recovery.
After graduating at the top of his class and obtaining a medical degree at Wayne State University, Dr. Partha Nandi completed his gastroenterology fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and has been a practicing physician for over 20 years. Throughout his career, Dr. Nandi authored several publications and spoke at TedX, college commencements, charity events, and international conferences, advocating ways to improve the quality and access to health care. He has also collaborated with The World Health Organization and partnered with the Ministries of Health in Jamaica and India.
Dr. Partha Nandi currently practices gastroenterology full-time in Detroit, Michigan, where he holds the title of Chief Health Editor for WXYZ ABC Detroit. He is also the creator and host of a medical lifestyle television show, Ask Dr. Nandi, and a speaker at conferences and premier medical meetings to share his mission and empower everyone “To Be Your Own Health Hero.”