Type 3 Diabetes? Here’s Just How Connected Dementia Is to Nutrition
When we talk about chronic disease, it’s not uncommon to focus on the three major lifestyle-related diseases — heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. These illnesses affect the lives of so many families every single day and rightfully get a lot of attention in the health and preventive medicine world. But there’s another disease that’s growing in prevalence at such a rapid pace, we should all be wary of how it may affect us at some point in our lives.
That disease is dementia, which is really a group of related neurodegenerative diseases that include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I’ve noticed that dementia often gets left out of discussions about lifestyle-related illnesses, and that’s a big mistake! This group of illnesses is very much linked to diet and lifestyle. In fact, health experts are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes because of its close link to metabolic health.
So today, I want to dive into the lifestyle factors that are thought to increase and decrease your risk of dementia — they’re something we should all be aware of.
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1. Follow a Mediterranean diet
You’ve probably already heard about the Mediterranean diet for its health benefits, maybe for heart health or for preventing diabetes. Well, it also seems to benefit long-term brain health! For example, one study on 116 people showed that those eating a Mediterranean diet had thicker cortical brain regions, which are regions in the brain that shrinks in people with Alzheimer’s disease. (1) The Meditarranean diet consists of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats from sources like fatty fish and olive oil.
2. Avoid high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for dementia and it’s common for people with Alzheimer’s-like changes in the brain to also show vascular damage. For example, data from the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study measured cognition in 3,734 Japanese-American men in Hawaii who’d had their blood pressure measured more than 20 years earlier. (2) Researchers found that for every 10-mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure, there was a 9 percent increase in risk for poor cognitive function. The good news is that there are plenty of lifestyle factors that can help you reduce blood pressure, including cutting down on caffeine, reducing sodium in your diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress.
3. Follow a MIND diet
Speaking of the Meditarranean diet and blood pressure, there’s actually a diet that’s specifically designed to combine two to help slow neurological decline and prevent neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. It’s called the MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). The diet limits foods like red meat, sweets, cheese, dairy and trans fats, and fast food and encourages:
- Leafy green vegetables, at least 6 servings/week
- Other vegetables, at least 1 serving/day
- Berries, at least 2 servings/week
- Whole grains, at least 3 servings/day
- Fish, 1 serving/week
- Poultry, 2 servings/week
- Beans, 3 servings/week
- Nuts, 5 servings/week
- Wine, 1 glass/day*
- Olive oil
This diet is extremely effective at preventing dementia. For example, one analysis found that after an average of 4.5 years, people who adhered closely to the diet had a MIND 53% reduced rate of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who did not follow the diet closely. (3)
4. Reduce sugar
I write about the dangers of sugar all the time, and brain health is just one of the many parts of the body damaged by too much-added sugar. There’s a known link between insulin resistance and dementia. For example, a Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute study (4) examined brain scans in 150 late middle-aged adults who were at risk for Alzheimer's disease and showed that people with higher levels of insulin resistance used less blood sugar in areas of the brain most susceptible to Alzheimer's, which means that part of the brain has less energy to process information and create and retain memories. Cutting out sugar is easier said than done, but luckily I created this guide to cutting out sugar to help you on your journey.
5. Move your body
I saved the best for last! If there’s one thing to do to prevent dementia, it’s moving your body. A review of existing research showed that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s by 30 to 40 percent. (6) In fact, out of five healthy behaviors (getting regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining moderate alcohol intake, and having healthy body weight and healthy diet) exercise reduces dementia risk the most.
It can be really overwhelming and even scary to talk about diseases like Alzheimer’s, but in my heart, I know that knowledge is power. Just being aware of the lifestyle links to dementia can inspire us to eat less sugar, get out and walk a little more often, and choose that fatty fish instead of the hamburger and fries. As a functional medicine practitioner who specializes in preventing disease and taking a natural approach to health, it’s my duty to make sure you’re aware of them.
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- Facts & Statistics Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
- Kassed CA, Herkenham M. NF-kappaB p50-deficient mice show reduced anxiety-like behaviors in tests of exploratory drive and anxiety. Behav Brain Res. 2004;154(2):577‐584. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2004.03.026
- Crippa JA, Derenusson GN, Ferrari TB, et al. Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(1):121‐130. doi:10.1177/0269881110379283
- Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RH, Chagas MH, et al. Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36(6):1219‐1226. doi:10.1038/npp.2011.6
- Hill MN, Patel S. Translational evidence for the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in stress-related psychiatric illnesses. Biol Mood Anxiety Disord. 2013;3(1):19. Published 2013 Oct 22. doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-19
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.