It’s now fairly common knowledge that for optimal health it makes sense to reduce the consumption of sugar. The idea that dietary sugars increase the risk for such things as hypertension and the development of health-threatening changes in lipid profiles is not new. But a commonly held perception seems to be that these health risks represent a direct consequence of the fact that increased dietary sugar consumption causes weight gain, and that the weight gain is specifically related to all the other health issues.
But in a new publication, researchers in New Zealand reviewed 39 studies that looked at diets in which sugar consumption was increased. Thirty-seven assessed lipid outcomes while 12 evaluated blood pressure.
Their results revealed that higher sugar consumption raised triglyceride levels, total cholesterol, low and high-density lipoprotein as well as both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
One of the most important concepts described in Grain Brain focuses on the fundamental role of elevated blood sugar as it relates to brain degeneration. We explored in-depth, scientific literature that demonstrates a significant increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia if a person carries a diagnosis of type II diabetes. This relationship was amplified recently by a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated significantly increased risk for cognitive decline with mild elevations of blood sugar, well below levels that would indicate diabetes.
In a recent report, published in Clinical Interventions in Aging, Japanese researchers again solidified our knowledge base about the relationship between diabetes and cognitive decline. The report, “Type II Diabetes as a Risk Factor for Cognitive Impairment: Current Insights“, focuses on not only statistics relating diabetes to cognitive decline, but also the mechanisms by which that happens.
The researchers describe a variety of factors relating type II diabetes to brain dysfunction including impaired neurogenesis which is the process by which we are able to grow new brain cells, specifically in the brains memory center, hippocampus. This is compromised in diabetes.
This week, the British Journal of Cancer published an incredibly important report that found a strong relationship between a simple blood test and the risk for various forms of cancer. The study found that the common blood test used by diabetics to measure their average blood sugar, A1c, was strongly predictive in terms of cancer development.
For those of you who are not diabetic, you may not be familiar with this simple test that has profound health implications well beyond diabetes. Basically, the A1c test measures the amount of glycation that the protein hemoglobin has undergone. Glycation simply means that sugar has become bonded to a protein, in this case hemoglobin, and this is a relatively slow process. Hence, it’s a way to get a sense as to how high the blood sugar has been, in this case over a 3-4 month period of time, and this is why it’s so helpful for diabetics.
Inflammation is a process with which we are all familiar. Whether from an insect bite or an arthritic joint, we associate inflammation with the typical observations of pain, redness, and swelling as well as loss of function.
In Grain Brain, as well as my recent PBS program, BrainChange, I described that this very same process, inflammation, is actually a pivotal player in such diverse brain conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and even autism.
That said, the most fundamental take home message of all my media outreach is to convince everyone willing to listen that you’ve got to do everything possible to reduce inflammation. And that means a diet rich in inflammation-reducing foods like healthful fats, minimal in carbohydrates and strictly gluten-restricted.