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Diabetes & Alzheimer's Disease: How to Reduce Your Risk

08/16/2022 | 4 min. read

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Diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are serious health challenges that are on the rise, affecting rapidly increasing numbers of people in the United States and worldwide. 

Although diabetes is an endocrine disorder and Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease, these conditions are closely linked. Diabetes raises the risk of developing Alzheimer's—and the earlier the diagnosis of diabetes, the greater the risk of dementia later in life. 

So, what is the blood sugar-Alzheimer's risk connection? More importantly, what can you do to reduce your risk? 

How Does Diabetes Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s?

Many of the metabolic abnormalities that cause, or are caused by, diabetes affect tissues throughout the body, including the brain, and increase the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. They include:

  • Oxidative stress and inflammation: High blood sugar ramps up oxidative stress and inflammation, which play pivotal roles in virtually all diabetic complications, as well as the onset and progression of Alzheimer's. 
  • Cardiovascular disease: Hypertension, lipid abnormalities, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke are common complications of diabetes. These disorders, especially stroke and hypertension, raise the risk of developing vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar is devastating to the brain, which depends on a constant supply of glucose. Prolonged or frequent episodes of hypoglycemia, which are particularly common in patients who are on insulin, are associated with cognitive impairment and dementia. 
  • Obesity: Obesity is an independent risk factor for faster cognitive decline, more significant brain atrophy, and increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. It is also the leading cause of type 2 diabetes.  

Plus, recent research reveals another, perhaps even more direct relationship: insulin resistance of the brain. 

Diabetes, Alzheimer’s & Insulin Resistance of the Brain 

Insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into the cells by attaching to insulin receptors and unlocking the channels that let glucose in. When the cells don’t respond to insulin’s signals, glucose cannot enter, and blood sugar remains elevated. This is insulin resistance, and it is the crux of type 2 diabetes. 

So, what does this have to do with Alzheimer’s disease? 

Insulin is also active in the brain, as evidenced by an abundance of insulin receptors on brain cells. Insulin has neuroprotective effects and supports multiple cognitive processes. A healthy brain depends on the efficient transport of insulin through the blood-brain barrier and proper insulin signaling. 

Like cells elsewhere in the body, brain cells can become insulin resistant, and failure to respond to insulin signaling impairs their function. This has been linked with changes in energy metabolism, the loss of neurons and neuronal connections, and brain shrinkage. Insulin resistance also increases neuroinflammation and promotes the formation of beta-amyloid plaques and tau neurofibrillary tangles, which are characteristic of Alzheimer's.

Bottom line, the links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s are so strong that some researchers refer to Alzheimer's as “type 3 diabetes.” 

How to Control Diabetes & Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

Alzheimer's is a complex disease, and there are some risk factors you cannot control. Since you can’t do anything about your age or your genes, it’s important to double down on the things you can modify. 

There are many positive steps you can take to prevent Alzheimer's—and among the most important is getting a handle on diabetes with these natural therapies:

  • Diet: A whole-food, nutrient-rich, low-carbohydrate diet with a minimum of sugars and starches not only helps control diabetes but also enhances brain health.
  • Exercise: Physical activity most days of the week improves insulin sensitivity, blood sugar control, cardiovascular health, and weight. Regular exercise also protects against cognitive decline.
  • Weight loss: Losing as little as 10–15 pounds can improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.
  • Blood sugar-lowering supplements: Natural compounds such as berberine, cinnamon, chromium, and banaba leaf have been shown to lower blood sugar. Early research suggests that berberine may also help inhibit or delay degenerative changes in the brain.
  • Other protective supplements: Because oxidative stress is a common factor in the development and progression of diabetes and Alzheimer's, I recommend taking a good daily multivitamin with high levels of antioxidants. I also recommend natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oil and curcumin, which help dampen neuroinflammation and support brain health. 

Diabetes & Alzheimer’s Recap 

Not everyone with diabetes develops Alzheimer's, but the elevated risk is well-established. If you or a loved one has diabetes, I urge you to take action to control it—and take it now. Brain deterioration and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease begin years, even decades, before symptoms become obvious. 

Even if you don’t have diabetes, you should get serious about prevention. Studies suggest that individuals with prediabetes (above average blood sugar but not quite in the diabetic range) also have faster rates of cognitive decline. One in three Americans have prediabetes and most of them are unaware of it. If you’re overweight, inactive, and have a poor diet, you may be one of them. 

Sure, it takes work and focus to stick with a healthy lifestyle, but a good diet, exercise, weight loss, and nutritional support will increase your chances of a long, healthy, active—and memorable—life. And that’s a goal worth striving for. 

Dr. Julian Whitaker

Meet Dr. Julian Whitaker

For more than 30 years, Dr. Julian Whitaker has helped people regain their health with a combination of therapeutic lifestyle changes, targeted nutritional support, and other cutting-edge natural therapies. He is widely known for treating diabetes, but also routinely treats heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

More About Dr. Julian Whitaker