The Link Between Diet, Type II Diabetes and Alzheimer Disease

Compiled by Belinda Eyers, March 2016

I have recently finished reading a series of blogs about Type II Diabetes on the Cytoplan website (a nutritional supplement company), written by a Dr David Morris, a freelance GP in the NHS. He looks at the problems with both the approach of modern medicine to treating diabetes and also the way to deal with the disease by simple dietary changes.

As an Osteopath, Diabetes is not an area of expertise for me, but the points raised by Dr Morris seemed to me to be very important. I have therefore put together a brief précis of the most salient points, as I for one believe Dr Morris and his colleagues have a very important message to get across.

What is Type II Diabetes?

Type II Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance (chronically high levels of insulin because of high levels of sugar) which will then lead to an increase of insulin and glucose levels in the blood.

An increase in the insulin levels is actually more harmful then an increase in blood glucose. Most modern medicines work by lowering sugar levels which leads to an increase in insulin resistance. Increased insulin resistance leads to increased insulin levels and therefore causes more harm. It is therefore vital that we understand why type II diabetes develops - not just address the increase in sugar levels in the blood.

Insulin has a lot of functions within our bodies - not just that of blood glucose control. Amongst other things, correct levels of insulin helps muscle to function properly. So when it goes wrong, ie too much insulin is in the system, there can be muscle fatigue which can affect the muscles in the arteries. This then causes an increase in blood pressure. This will also affect the large muscles in the body that you use to move and exercise with, and it will make exercise difficult because of a decrease in the fuel that is getting to the muscles.

Organs what will be affected by insulin resistance are the pancreas, brain (more on that later), liver, ovaries, as well as the muscles.

There now appears to be evidence connecting diabetes, the effects it has on the brain and insulin resistance.

The diabetes association website states that "People that have insulin resistance, in particular those with type II diabetes, have an increased risk of suffering from Alzheimer Disease (AD) - estimates to be between 50% and 65% higher". This is due to a combination of many things that occur in the brain naturally. But with an increase in insulin levels these normal processes are disrupted which leads to the structure within the brain becoming altered. The main factors are the formation of Tau Tangles which occur naturally with age, and the formation of Plaques (made from beta amyloid proteins).

Both these proteins occur naturally in the brain, but studies are strongly indicating that an increase of insulin increases the amount of both within the brain, which can lead to atrophy of the brain, especially in places like the hippocampus, the area of the brain understood to be the centre for emotion and memory.

Based on this information, I think it is safe to assume that we would all rather prevent ourselves from going down this path. While there are still many factors yet to be discovered and understood about AD, it would now seem clear that Diabetes can be a powerful contributing factor. Therefore, doing all we can to help ourselves avoid Type II Diabetes would seem to be an obvious step in also potentially helping ourselves avoid the possibility of developing AD.

Dietary Changes

Changing our diet can,  in most cases, be extremely effective way of reversing the effects of insulin resistance, and potentially preventing the onset of Type II Diabetes in the first place.

The main three ways of doing this are:

• Adjusting Carbohydrate Intake
• Fasting
• Avoiding Artificial Sweeteners

Carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, wheat based products) stimulate insulin release. Dietary fat doesn't affect insulin. Protein (meat and dairy products) will stimulate insulin (less so than carbohydrates), but it also stimulates glycagon which counteracts insulin.

In short, a low carb diet is the way forward. This means a decrease in dietary sugar and a decrease in 'white stuff'; flour, potatoes, pasta, rice etc. Additionally, eat as many green vegetables and salads as possible. A rough guide is also to eat the part of the vegetable that grows above ground as it has a lower GI than those below.

Beware of fruits - all berries are good, as are apples and pears. But tropical fruits are not, and fruit juices should be avoided as the natural sugar levels contained in them are far higher than any amount of actual fruit you could eat in one sitting.

Don’t be fooled by “low sugar” or “diet” items such as fizzy drinks, and of course, artificial sweeteners sold as an alternative to sugar. Artificial sweeteners are toxic to our bodies and rather than helping reduce diabetic risk, studies have shown that it has the same risk as sugary drinks in regard to raising insulin levels.

It’s not just what we eat, but HOW we eat it

Fasting helps to normalise appetite by decreasing the hunger hormone called ghrelin. This is done easily by following the 16:8 method - 16 hours not eating, and only an 8 hour window when you can eat. 12 hours without food makes the body prepare to fast, priming it to metabolise fat. Fasting also affects the chemicals in the brain which promote mental health and trigger the production of new brain cells.

When you do eat, try to eat your proteins and fats first and leave the carbs until last. Eating your food “in order” help to lessen the rise in glucose and insulin levels immediately after a meal.

To conclude, there are without doubt many other papers and research reports that indicate different approaches in the treatment and prevention of Type II Diabetes with regard to also potentially preventing AD, although it is universally agreed that diet is the number one contributing factor to the onset of Type II Diabetes. However, the research outlined here that strongly suggests a link between Type II Diabetes and AD is more than enough to make me look at my own and my family’s diets and make some changes. A healthy, correctly balanced diet will not only mean I am doing what I can to help prevent the development of two very destructive diseases, it will also help prevent unwanted weight gain, which, from an osteopathic point of view, is enormously helpful in lessening the load on ageing joints, helping to minimise or even prevent other age related complaints like arthritis.

It is sad but unavoidable fact that a great many of today’s age related illnesses have soared in prevalence since our diets became rich in fats and sugars. But we do not have to perpetuate those habits. In the western world we have a vast choice of foods to eat, even allowing for personal tastes, intolerances and allergies, so it is ultimately down to us as individuals to take responsibility for our later health, by being mindful of how we fuel our bodies.

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