ARTICLE AT A GLANCE
Just like resistance to insulin negatively impacts your body, it’s also detrimental to your brain. Insulin resistance in the brain can lead to memory loss, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. Because of the similarities, there’s a growing contingent among researchers to classify Alzheimer’s disease as “Type 3 diabetes.” This blog explores the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, and offers three tips that can help lower your risk of both diabetes and dementia:
Type 2 diabetes, or T2D, deals with insulin resistance in peripheral tissues, which is why it’s associated with several other chronic health issues. Many believe that insulin resistance also occurs in the brains of individuals who have dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of the similarity, it’s becoming more common for people to use the term “Type 3 diabetes,” or T3D, in reference to Alzheimer’s disease, also known as AD. It’s still a controversial classification, and many doctors hesitate to use it until more research is conducted. Yet a growing body of research strongly proposes that Alzheimer’s be classified as a type of diabetes and that the disease could be successfully treated as such.
The Case for Treating Alzheimer’s Like Diabetes
The first clues that Alzheimer’s disease could be a form of diabetes are the disease’s molecular and biochemical characteristics. Research has shown that the insulin resistance, cell loss, amyloid protein deposits, chronic oxidative stress, DNA damage, and other factors of Alzheimer’s mirror the characteristics of diabetes but within the brain.
For example, the cumulative symptoms of AD could be linked to chronic hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Long-term epidemiological studies suggest this is strong evidence for a link between T2D and dementia or cognitive decline. Patients who have diabetes are typically at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
While we continue learning more about the common characteristics between Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes, it’s important to remember that not all cases of Alzheimer’s show the same links to insulin resistance. As with all diseases, many factors are involved in its development, including aging, genetics, obesity, lack of physical activity, and more.
This is one reason many doctors are hesitant to fully embrace Alzheimer’s disease as a form of diabetes. However, many of the steps that are proven to help reduce the risks or symptoms of T2D can also help mitigate your risks of developing AD. Those include certain lifestyle changes, dietary and exercise habits, and treatment goals designed to reduce insulin resistance.
What Steps Are Most Effective for Treating T3D?
As with T2D, changes to your diet and exercise can play a significant role in helping you prevent Alzheimer’s disease. These few changes, specifically, are among the most effective:
1. Eat better and exercise more.
Eating healthfully and exercising helps reverse the effects of T2D. Evidence strongly suggests that a similar diet and exercise routine can reduce Alzheimer’s risks, especially a diet that boosts weight loss and insulin sensitivity. According to research from the Diabetes Prevention Program, losing 5% to 7% of your body weight is more than adequate.
Research also says to move more. Ideally, you should be active at least 30 minutes every day for five days a week. Start with small activities like walking, then build yourself up to full-blown exercise routines every day.
2. Medicate to improve insulin resistance.
The goals of eating better and exercising more are to balance your blood pressure and blood sugar and to boost your body’s sensitivity to insulin. That sensitivity can also be improved with proper medication, both pharmaceuticals and all-natural supplements. In both animal and human studies, metformin has been one of the best prescription medicines to help protect against the structural abnormalities that develop in Alzheimer’s disease patients. All-natural glucose disposal agents such as berberine and cinnamon among others, appear to be very promising as well.
Improving insulin sensitivity has also been shown to boost the brain’s ability to metabolize glucose (blood sugar) for energy. common molecular and cellular mechanisms shared by Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes, researchers found that clinical-stage diabetes drugs held a high potential for helping to improve brain activity in Alzheimer’s patients.
3. Try energy-specific diets and meal plans.
Eating healthfully in general can help most people balance out their blood sugar, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and more. Yet insulin resistance directly affects your brain’s ability to process glucose for energy. Therefore, many patients can benefit even more from a diet or meal plan designed to optimize energy usage and metabolization.
A ketogenic diet is one such meal plan, and it has already become popular as a way to help stave off the progression of neurodegenerative disease. A keto diet eliminates glucose so your body is forced to produce ketones for energy, which it does by burning fat. Your brain also begins using the ketones instead of the glucose to which it has become resistant.
Officially, it might be a while longer before Alzheimer’s disease can be designated as Type 3 diabetes. However, you can benefit now from taking the approach that treating or controlling your risks of diabetes can also help you control your risks developing dementia in the future. Eat healthfully, exercise often, avoid processed sugars, and focus on maintaining your brain’s and body’s sensitivity to insulin.
If you prefer, you can even get help by partnering with a healthy meal delivery service to prepare and deliver healthy meals designed specifically to lower your risks of diabetes.
Zac Bell is a Nutritional Health Coach at Metabolic Meals, supporting customers with their nutrition and fitness goals. Zac has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science.