At the same time the country’s population is aging, the incidence of overweight and diabetes is rising in epidemic numbers. Major research studies now link diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

If we learn to modify our lifestyle to appropriately control blood sugar and insulin, can we break the connection to the fatal condition; Alzheimer’s Disease? If we learn to eat and exercise in a way that becomes our new “way of life”….can we reverse the runaway train that stops to pick up overweight, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes on its way to fatal AD?

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Dementia is defined as a loss of brain function that affects a person’s memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.

There are 2 causes of dementia: Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia .
Vascular dementia affects about 25% of those with dementia and involves gradual damage to blood vessels that deliver nutrients to the brain. Diabetes and vascular dementia have long been linked.

The truth is, 60-80% of those with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). And the important question is….are Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes linked?

Alzheimer’s disease is fatal and marked by progressive loss of memory and cognition. It is characterized by abnormal clumps of protein or plaques of protein in the brain. The precise link between diabetes and AD is not yet known….but studies indicate that those with pre diabetes and type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for developing AD.

Alzheimer’s appears to be a neuroendocrine disorder..a disorder involving nerves and the endocrine system….and for this reason, it is being referred to as type 3 diabetes. (Type 1 and type 2 diabetes also involve nerves and the endocrine system).

Taking steps to prevent or control type 2 diabetes may actually help reduce the risk of AD. (It is already conclusive that preventing or controlling diabetes helps decrease the risk of other diabetes complications including heart disease, vascular disease, and damage to the eyes, kidney, and nerves.)

The relationship between metabolic syndromeprediabetestype 2 diabetes Alzheimer’s Disease

Diabetes is a progressive illness. It begins with metabolic syndrome and then advances to pre diabetes, and in time, type 2 diabetes. Early detection and treatment of those with metabolic syndrome (a compilation of health conditions including hypertension, elevated triglycerides, belly fat, glucose) may slow or stop the progression to pre diabetes and ultimately type 2 diabetes. If we detect and gain control of those with metabolic syndrome or pre diabetes or diabetes, can we prevent or forestall Alzheimer’s disease?

The alarm of Diabetes statistics:
26 million Americans have diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed)
+79 million Americans have pre diabetes
Over 100 million Americans have blood sugar disorders. And millions more have metabolic syndrome!

Growing Alzheimer’s statistics:

AD now affects 15 million people worldwide. With the rapid aging of the population, upwards of 14 million Americans are projected to develop Alzheimer’s in the coming decades.
Experts estimate that at this time, 1 in 8 Americans ages 65 and over has AD and nearly half of Americans have the disease once they reach age 85.

Latest Major Study Results:

A major study published in Neurology, Sept. 2012 concluded: “People with type 2 diabetes have increased risk of heart attack, stroke, AD, and other forms of dementia. Diabetes is a significant risk factor for ALL forms of dementia.”
In the study involving 1000 men and women over age 60, people with diabetes were TWICE as likely to develop AD within 15 years and 1.75 times more likely to develop dementia of any kind.

So, according to this study…people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop AD as those without diabetes. Statistics suggest that as the nearly 26 million Americans with diabetes grown older, the number of AD cases will skyrocket. At the same time, the number of people developing type 2 diabetes is growing at epidemic levels.
To prevent this calamity, researchers are racing to uncover the actual connection between AD and diabetes.

The link may boil down to one molecule: INSULIN!

The culprit is….INSULIN?

Because the brain does not require insulin to fuel its cells, it had long been assumed that the brain was an “insulin independent organ”… We are now learning that insulin may have a very different job in the brain as the “right amount of insulin” in the brain may actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

It now appears that insulin plays a key role in learning and memory…in the process of insulin signaling involved in the creation of memories. If adequate amounts of insulin are not available for “insulin signaling”…learning and memory are compromised and may lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is known that Insulin Resistance precipitates dementia:

Vascular dementia and Insulin resistance (IR): In the case of IR, insulin is available (sometimes excess levels of insulin are present), but it is ineffective. Ineffective insulin leads to high blood sugar that can cause vascular damage throughout the body; including vascular damage to the nerves and vessels in the brain. Atherosclerosis (high blood glucose and circulating cholesterol) can cause strokes that destroy brain cells and tissue. So, in vascular dementia….high blood sugar of diabetes is responsible for damaging blood vessels…including those in the brain.

Here is where it gets interesting:

Is insulin resistance also involved in Alzheimer’s Disease? A normal level of insulin to the brain prevents proteins from gumming up and forming plaques that cause the connections between nerves to fail. The presence of insulin in the brain enables signaling between nerve synapses…enabling messages and memories to pass from nerve to nerve.
Metabolic syndrome  pre diabetes  type 2 diabetes long term and worsening type 2 diabetes. As pre diabetes and type 2 diabetes get progressively worse, so, too does insulin resistance and eventual decrease of insulin production. As IR increases, the pancreas gradually “fatigues” and the amount of insulin to the brain decreases allowing the sticky amyloid protein to build and gum up the connections between the nerves as well as form plaques. As IR worsens, nerve connections in the brain decrease.

It does appear that insulin resistance and the amount of circulating insulin does have a direct relationship to vascular dementia and AD.

What Steps can be taken NOW to prevent Vascular Dementia AND Alzheimer’s Disease?

Let the scientists decide the exact connection or link between diabetes and AD. What we do know is that the two illnesses are connected….and one of them is fatal.

It is going to be imperative that we learn to keep our blood sugar/insulin levels normal throughout our lifetimes and especially as we get older to prevent loss of memory, ability to think, reason, focus, concentrate and take care of ourselves so our golden years can truly be golden.

What Steps can be taken NOW to prevent or slow the progression to Alzheimer’s Disease:

*Live The Metabolism Miracle or Diabetes Miracle. These lifestyle programs are designed to regulate blood glucose, insulin, and to decrease insulin resistance. or

*Diet? Focus on a balanced diet with low glycemic index carbohydrates, lean protein, heart healthy fats, liberal vegetables, timed carbohydrate consumption.

*Exercise? Daily physical activity to decrease blood sugar, body fat, insulin resistance, progression of metabolic syndrome to type 2 diabetes

*Daily Multivitamin supplement

*Increase in Omega 3 fatty acids

*Adequate water/decaf fluid

*Daily brain exercise (reading, memory games, crossword, Sudoku, Lumosity)

*Maintain social connections

We must acknowledge that we live in a time in which lifestyle- caused and enabled diseases are occurring at epidemic levels. Once we acknowledge that the diseases of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and dementia (vascular and Alzheimer’s disease) can be decreased by an appropriate and healthful lifestyle….it is essential to inform the population of the best lifestyle choices to help obtain and maintain optimal health.

Author's Bio: 

Diane Kress, RD CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with over 30 years experience in medical nutrition therapy regarding weight loss, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. She is a New York Times bestselling author of The Metabolism Miracle, Metabolism Miracle Cookbook and The Diabetes Miracle.