The sweet taste of Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers now question whether Alzheimer’s may be another version of diabetes — one that hits the brain. Some have labeled it “type 3 diabetes.”

by Mary Budinger —

Evidence is mounting that the same bodily mechanisms that lead to type 2 diabetes may be causing the current epidemic of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The culprit is sugar.

When we think of insulin, we think of the pancreas. Insulin provides the cue for muscles, liver and fat cells to extract sugar from the blood and either use it for energy or store it as fat. But the brain also produces insulin, and it plays a key role in brain signaling.

Insulin helps neurons take up glucose for energy, and it also regulates neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, which are crucial for memory and learning. Insulin also encourages plasticity — the process through which neurons change shape, make new connections and strengthen others. It is also important for the function and growth of blood vessels, which supply the brain with oxygen and glucose.

Suzanne de la Monte, a neuropathologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, studied rats by disrupting the insulin path to neurons in the brain. The result was dementia. The rats’ brains looked surprisingly similar to that of an Alzheimer’s patient, including the buildup of the deadly beta-amyloid plaques. Her study was one of the first to make this link.

Researchers now question whether Alzheimer’s may be another version of diabetes — one that hits the brain. Some have labeled it “type 3 diabetes.”

If de la Monte and others are correct, constantly high levels of insulin, triggered by the Western diet, begin to overwhelm the brain. Either separately or in conjunction with the other changes associated with type 2 diabetes, the brain may then begin to turn down its insulin signaling, thus impairing the ability to think and form memories, which eventually leads to permanent neural damage.

Source: New Scientist, September 3, 2012.

 

Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 5, October/November 2012.

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