Keeping your blood sugar level in check may help ward off dementia.
Here’s another reason to keep your blood sugar under control: increased levels of any kind are now linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. “For the first time, we have a convincing link between dementia and elevated blood sugars, even in the nondiabetic range,” says Dr. David Nathan, a Harvard Medical School professor and the director of the Diabetes Center and Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Blood sugar risks
Blood sugar levels rise every time you eat. If the levels are too high—126 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or more after an eight-hour fast—you have type 2 diabetes. We’ve known for a long time that there are links between diabetes and dementia. However, a recent study found that all blood sugar increases—even without diabetes—are associated with an increased dementia risk; the higher the blood sugar, the higher the risk. “We speculate that high blood sugar levels are causing more vascular disease,” says
Dr. Nathan, who was an author on the study.
Blockages in the arteries providing blood to the brain could be a cause of dementia. Dr. Nathan says that dementia may also be the result of insulin resistance, when the body stops responding to the hormone that helps cells, including brain cells, use energy.
Fix your diet
There’s no direct proof that reducing your blood sugar level reduces your dementia risk. The study only demonstrated an association—a link—between the two. However, there are many reasons to keep glucose levels lower. Excess blood sugar can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart, eye, kidney, and nerve diseases. So shifting to a healthier diet with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help.
Also helpful is cutting back your intake of highly refined carbohydrates, including refined grains and especially foods with added sugars—not just sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup, but also forms such as molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, and fruit juice concentrates. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from sugar (about the amount found in 6 teaspoons of table sugar) per day for women, and 150 calories (the amount in 9 teaspoons) per day for men. If your fasting blood sugar level is in the diabetic range or prediabetic range (100–125 mg/dL), you’ll want to work with a dietitian to determine your exact needs.
You can also reduce your blood sugar levels by exercising more. Try to get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking. If that’s daunting, know that even a little activity can make a big difference in lowering blood sugar levels. Short but frequent walking breaks—as brief as two minutes every half hour—can lower blood sugar. So take a walk after a meal.
And it doesn’t always have to be official “exercise.” Try taking the stairs more often, parking farther away from the store, and getting up and moving if you’ve been sitting too long. “It’s common sense,” says Dr. Nathan. “The more active you are and the less sedentary, the more your muscles will remove glucose from the blood. Also, the insulin you make will be more effective.”
Want to eat foods that won’t spike your blood sugar?
The glycemic index can help.
The Glycemic Index measures how strongly a food affects blood
Source: International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008