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Can You Sidestep Alzheimer’s Disease?

Elevated blood sugar levels, a condition affecting one in three American adults, increases risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Another health concern you are likely to start hearing more about is the link between elevated blood sugar and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease currently affects as many as five million Americans. This incurable condition, the most common form of dementia, destroys memory and thinking skills. Aging increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Within the next 30 years, the number of people age 65 and older will more than double to 88.5 million and will equal 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Blood sugar (blood glucose), the body’s main source of energy, is manufactured during food digestion. It then enters the bloodstream, where insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, moves it into the body’s cells and organs. If you have more blood sugar than your body needs at a particular moment, insulin moves it into your liver for storage and releases it when you need more. This could be between meals or during periods of physical activity. Insulin helps keep blood sugar levels within a normal range (less than 100 mg/dL after not eating or drinking for at least eight hours and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating or drinking).

Sometimes, however, unhealthy lifestyle choices (a diet high in sugar and a lack of physical activity) upset the body’s production of insulin. This is what leads to elevated blood sugar levels, which can progress to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. A consequence of these conditions is that the body starts producing too much insulin and also becomes resistant to it. As a result, glucose backs up in the bloodstream instead of going to where it’s needed in the body. Over time, this impairs brain function and can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Reduce elevated blood sugar to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Just as it helps reduce risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes, a healthy diet can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The DASH Eating Plan, which focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean meats, provides guidance for making healthy choices. Regular, moderate physical activity is also important as it keeps blood flowing to the brain, improving brain health. Small changes made every day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking farther away so you have to walk more, can make a big difference.

What else can you do?

Exercise your brain. Reading, socializing, taking classes and traveling help your brain stay active. Aging puts everyone at risk for Alzheimer’s, but the disease is not a part of normal aging. Lifestyle changes you make today can make Alzheimer’s disease less likely in your future.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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