Is high blood sugar causing your brain to shrink?
I'll admit it. I like a good old-fashioned Sci-Fi flick as much as the next guy and one of my all-time favorites is the 1957 classic "The Incredible Shrinking Man."
I can still remember the shock I felt seeing it for the first time. Just contemplating how everyday occurrences could suddenly become threatening and insurmountable is still enough to give me a severe case of the willies.
But what if you couldn't see the actual shrinking?
What if it was all happening inside hidden away? What if the damages were just as severe...trouble completing even the most simple of tasks like walking, talking, or writing...but the consequences were somehow even more sinister because you couldn't see them coming?
Spotting a shrinking problem
It was just last month that I warned you about the emerging connection between low vitamin B12 levels and brain shrinkage. Now, I have another warning about brain atrophy and cognitive decline that those with diabetes...or those at risk for the disease...simply can't afford to ignore.
We already know, of course, that diabetes can lead to a host of other medical problems ranging from eye complications to heart problems. But now, according to recently published research in the journal Diabetes Care, it appears we need to add brain shrinkage to the list.
For the last five years a team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have been studying the effects of diabetes on the cognitive health of older patients. What they found is, to be honest, quite alarming.
Inflammation could steal your memories and more
For their latest experiment the research team recruited 147 volunteers with an average age of 65. Seventy-one of the volunteers were type-2 diabetics who had been taking medication to manage their disease for at least five years and the remaining 76 were non-diabetic control subjects.
Prior research had already revealed significantly more brain atrophy in people with diabetes than a non-diabetic control group. And when I say significant I really mean it. A normal aging brain at age 65 shrinks about one percent a year, but in a diabetic that number can skyrocket to an astounding 15 percent.
Now, for this phase of the study the researchers wanted to find out if chronic inflammation of blood vessels...caused by glucose build up in the blood (hyperglycemia) of diabetic patients...could be responsible for altering blood flow to their brains leading to atrophy, cognitive impairment, memory loss, and depression.
All of the volunteers were given a series of tests, which included checks of their cognition, balance, blood pressure, and blood-glucose levels. In addition, their blood serum was tested for signs of inflammation and the blood flow to their brains was measured with special MRI scans.
The scans revealed that not only did the diabetics have the greater blood vessel constriction that the team was looking for their brains were also clearly more atrophied...or shrunken...than the controls.
The shrinkage showed up most significantly in the gray matter and included the frontal, temporal, and parietal regions of the brain. In other words, the damaged tissue could literally affect everything from short-term memory, to walking, to speech.
Prevent blood-sugar caused brain damage
The researchers envision a domino-like event that eventually leads to the kind of damage they found in the brains of the diabetic volunteers.
You see, when you're diabetic there's excess glucose floating around in your blood stream that your body is unable to use as energy (the hyperglycemia I mentioned earlier). And it's this excess of sugar that then triggers the release of substances called adhesion molecules...sVCAM and sICAM...that leads to chronic inflammation, blood vessel restriction, reduced blood flow and, ultimately, brain damage.
So, where does this leave us? Well, the bottom line is really the same as it's always been. The only difference is that now we know our brain health is at stake too.
If you're not diabetic already your number one priority should be to prevent the disease from ever taking a stranglehold on your life. With diet and exercise you can head the type-2 version of the disease off at the pass. In fact, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program study you can slash your risk of ever developing the disease by 58 percent and if you're 60 or older that risk is slashed by an astonishing 71 percent.
And, as I explained earlier this year, adding vitamin D3 to your routine can greatly reduce your chance of ever having to hear your doc say, "You've got diabetes."
If you've already been diagnosed with the full-blown disease, not so coincidentally the advice is essentially the same...to tackle diabetes naturally, diet and exercise is still the key.
But what happens if you're already doing everything right and still find that your numbers are not where you want them to be? Don't be discouraged and whatever you do don't decide drugs are the only answer. You may be able to find that extra bit of support you need from supplements.
Chromium, for example, has long been considered a "gold standard" when it comes to blood sugar support. In fact, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center up to 90 percent of men and women have diets that are low in the important mineral. Plus, being a senior or having a diet high in sugar can put you at an even higher risk of being deficient in it.
And as long as you're taking a supplement with chromium in it you should also consider adding biotin to the mix. Several trials have shown encouraging blood-sugar results when combining this B vitamin with chromium.
Truthfully, there's no better time than right now...while the Season of Eating is just coming to a close...to make a commitment to changing your habits in the coming year. With diet, exercise, and the right supplements you can say goodbye to type-2 diabetes forever.
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About the author
Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.
In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.
Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health.