Is Alzheimer’s Disease a “Diabetes of the Brain”?

Brain MRI

Image: The Franklin Institute

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that currently afflicts 35 million people worldwide, could be a form of “brain diabetes”, according to a small but growing body of evidence. In a recent article in the British Guardian, and a piece by Mark Bittman in the NY Times, the case is made for a connection between insulin problems and brain damage.

Diabetes is a disease of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that enables the body’s cells to absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. In type 1 diabetes, which afflicts about 10% of people with diabetes, the pancreas does not manufacture enough insulin and thus blood sugar level skyrocket. Hence the need for insulin shots before/after every meal. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas manufactures insulin, but the body has become resistant to it and no matter how much overtime the pancreas puts in to manufacture more, blood sugar levels continue to rise. Eventually the pancreas poops out as well. Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated as the result of poor food choices and obesity.

Unfortunately, people who have type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to contract Alzheimer’s disease as healthy folk. In autopsies of people who died from Alzheimer’s, the insulin levels in their brains were much lower than in those of a control group. This has led to the notion that perhaps the brain also manufactures insulin to absorb glucose. Glucose is required for proper brain function. According to the Guardian article:

Plenty of research still needs to be done. But, if the current indications are correct, Alzheimer’s disease could be another catastrophic impact of the junk food industry, and the worst discovered so far. Our governments, as they are in the face of all our major crises, seem to be incapable of responding.

 Another reason to eat more healthfully?

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  • mlechristine

    hmmm. Correlation between insulin insensitivity in the tissues (type 2 Diabetes) and Alzheimer’s is shown in research, as you have mentioned. However, the brain does not require insulin to take up glucose – so insulin in this case is irrelevant. The brain and the liver are the only organs in the body that do not require insulin for glucose uptake. In fact, there are specific consequences of Type 2 DM that happen to the brain and liver because they are susceptible to very high levels of blood glucose (which is what often happens when tissues do not uptake the glucose and/or if there is not enough insulin present).

  • James Cooper

    Well, Bittman is clearly no scientist, and he provides links to one real PubMed article that is a long way from the diabetes assertion, and an article that DeLaMonte wrote for well known quack, Dr. Oz. I am not persuaded.

  • James Cooper

    Well, Bittman is clearly no scientist, and he provides links to one real PubMed article that is a long way from the diabetes assertion, and an article that DeLaMonte wrote for well known quack, Dr. Oz. I am not persuaded.

  • James Cooper

    Well, Bittman is clearly no scientist, and he provides links to one real PubMed article that is a long way from the diabetes assertion, and an article that DeLaMonte wrote for well known quack, Dr. Oz. I am not persuaded.

  • James Cooper

    Well, Bittman is clearly no scientist, and he provides links to one real PubMed article that is a long way from the diabetes assertion, and an article that DeLaMonte wrote for well known quack, Dr. Oz. I am not persuaded.

  • triapple

    Recently I also heard about “diabetes of the skin”. Now this is just too coincidental and I find myself logically asking why we can no longer eat or regulate our sugar? This is really a too far-reaching phenomenon not to be connected to our food supply. Is it HFCS? Have our genes been changed by GMO’s? I suspect both.
    Sclerotic deposits in the skin and on the brain would mean that there is something in our bloodstream that does not belong there and I would hazard a guess that it is foreign proteins getting or causing garbled messages. What does the body do with these substances? It “puts” them somewhere in it’s attempt at protection.
    I also suspect that chitin is a culprit here and food additives that contain it are very dangerous to the human body. Chitin is a polysaccharide (sugar) found in a hardened version as the shells of crabs and lobsters. I believe our bodies cannot digest this substance and that it causes inflammation when it enters our body. It is a warning system for human bodies about spiders, parasites, fungus since all of these contain chitin and also the reason I believe many people are allergic to shellfish.

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