Step away from the doughnuts in the office kitchenÃ¢â‚¬”if not for your body, then for your brain.
You likely know that an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity and related conditions like type 2 diabetes, but thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s growing evidence to suggest that eating sugary, processed foods can trigger what some experts are calling Type 3 Diabetes: brain-altering AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Disease.
While the concept of AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as brain diabetes is not new to some researchers, it recently gained attention after prominent food writer Mark Bittman covered the topic in a New York Times column. A food writer discussing AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s? Believe it.
Suzanne de La Monte, M.D., M.P.H., is a neuropathologist at Brown University whose team coined the term type 3 diabetes. Her research over the past decade suggests that consuming too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance in the brainÃ¢â‚¬”a very bad thing. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We found that by making the brains of rats insulin resistant, the rats developed an Alzheimer-like disease pattern, including neurodegeneration,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
How Insulin Resistance Leads to Dementia A biology refresher: Our cells need glucose from food for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, helps cells take in glucose from the bloodstream, which the cells then metabolize for energy. If thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, say, from eating too much sugary food, your pancreas will produce more insulin to keep up. Your cells, however, can become resistant to the increased insulin.
If cells in your brain become insulin-resistant, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get enough energy and they deteriorate. Starved brain cells can result in memory loss and confusionÃ¢â‚¬”the hallmarks of AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.
The Scope of the Problem As obesity rates climb, so too, researchers expect, will cases of diabetes and AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. While having diabetes doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cause AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, the two diseases are linked: In 2011, Japanese researchers concluded that having diabetes doubles your risk of developing AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a scary stat when you consider that nearly 105 million Americans (almost a third of the population) have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Almost 5.5 million Americans are living with AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and more than 115 million new cases of are projected worldwide in the next 40 years, according to Rhode Island Hospital.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The obesity epidemic leading to soaring rates of diabetes is killing us earlier and producing a crippling state of chronic disease,Ã¢â‚¬Â de la Monte says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“These problems are stressing our healthcare systems and shortening lifespan.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How To Avoid It Ã¢â‚¬Å“This problem is all about prevention,Ã¢â‚¬Â de la Monte says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The public health answer is to stop obesity at the youngest possible age by impressing upon parents the need to not over-feed children or feed them fast or processed foods.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not too late for adults to safeguard their health. De La Monte recommends the following:
1. Keep Tabs on Your Weight Ã¢â‚¬Å“It takes years to reach disease levels of obesity,Ã¢â‚¬Â de la Monte says. If you regularly weigh yourself and measure your waist, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll know when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re gaining weight and you can act earlier to lose it.
2. Eat Less Meat De la Monte suggests moving toward plant-based foods and cutting down on meat. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am not advocating vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, just changing proportions to follow the U.S. governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s MyPlate guidelines.Ã¢â‚¬Â Those guidelines suggest that half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables; the other half grains and protein. (Learn more about the benefits of eating less meat.)
3. Cut Back On Sugar Sugar is implicated in type 2 and 3 diabetes, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best to keep sugar consumption to a minimum. But donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that reducing your sugar intake gives you license to overeat other unhealthy foods instead. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The false impression that cutting sugar in one aspect of the meal frees you up to eat four slices of pizza is completely wrong,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
4. Cook More Learning to cook (with fresh, non-processed foods) is a good ideaÃ¢â‚¬”and it also saves money. (Need some ideas? The Women's Health Recipe Finder lets you search dishes by cook time, main ingredient, and more!)
5. Avoid Nitrates Research suggests that there is a link between AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and consuming foods containing nitrosamines. Protect yourself by avoiding foods that list sodium nitrite on label, de la Monte writes on doctoroz.com. Common culprits are processed foods including cheese, hot dogs, ground beef, and smoked meats like bacon.
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