Home Christian Lifestyle Healthy Living Is Alzheimer’s disease just another form of diabetes? by Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Is Alzheimer’s disease just another form of diabetes? by Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

14 min read

I’m going to make a bold statement, but one that research is proving to be true time and again: If you have high blood sugar problems, or type 2 diabetes, you are paving the way for Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2005, a study out of Brown Medical School found that Alzheimer’s was linked to problems with insulin signaling. That’s when the term “Type 3 diabetes” was coined. Essentially, what researchers discovered is that Alzheimer’s is almost like another form of diabetes.

How so?

Every time we eat a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate food, it is quickly broken down into simple sugars. Sensing this, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood. That insulin tells our cells to grab the sugar (glucose) and convert it to energy.

Once the cells reach capacity, though, the excess glucose in the blood has to go somewhere. (And when you regularly eat high-sugar foods, there’s typically a LOT of excess glucose floating around…) The body stores the excess as glycogen—a form of sugar that is easily stored in our muscles and liver. Whatever sugar is left over in the blood is turned into triglycerides—which you already know are harmful for health.

Repeat this cycle over and over, day in and day out (as is usually the case for those who follow the standard American diet), and our cells eventually start ignoring insulin altogether. It’s the body’s way of saying, “How many times do we have to go through this before you realize it’s too much sugar!!”

When your body no longer responds to insulin’s directives, you have what’s called insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance affects about ⅓ of all adults who are prediabetic or who have type 2 diabetes.

Circling back to Alzheimer’s…the 2005 study determined that the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients are actually insulin resistant. They stop taking in glucose, and without that energy, they stop working as they should. And this eventually leads to Alzheimer’s symptoms, as well as the plaques and tangles that are so characteristic of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Simply put, over time, great quantities of sugar and carbohydrates can become toxic to the brain.

A Better Understanding

While this whole connection between high blood sugar and Alzheimer’s has been pretty clearly established, scientists didn’t really understand the specific hows and whys. But a newly released study has unraveled that mystery.

The breakdown of glucose can harm proteins in cells via a process called glycation. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, glycation damages an enzyme that plays a role in insulin regulation. This enzyme, called MIF, helps to protect the brain from the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain—the plaques and tangles that are hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s.

So…the inhibition of MIF could possibly lead to the advancement of Alzheimer’s

Even Moderately High Blood Sugar Is Dangerous…

So maybe you don’t have diabetes, or even insulin resistance (yet…), but you still like to indulge in sweets more often than you should. Well, you’re not off the hook.

Research indicates that nondiabetic people with blood sugar levels that are lower than the threshold for diabetes are still at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life.

In a 7-year study of 2,000 people, some with diabetes and some without, 26 percent developed dementia by the end of the study.

The average blood sugar levels of the nondiabetic patients who developed dementia was 115 mg/dl, compared to 109 mg/dl in the nondiabetic patients who did not develop dementia.

This represents a 20 percent greater risk of dementia for people with moderately higher glucose levels.

In the group with diabetes, blood sugar levels among those who did not develop dementia were 160 mg/dl. Blood sugar levels among those who developed dementia were 190 mg/dl.

Improved Diet Is the Ultimate Solution

When too much glucose is the problem—as it is with the development of diabetes and dementias—there’s only one solution…diet.

In these cases, I highly recommend trying a modified low-carb (or ketogenic) diet, like my Hope Lifestyle Plan. Cutting back on carbs and sugar not only helps reverse diabetes risk, it leads to clearer thinking, as your brain cells make more efficient use of glucose.

With my Hope Lifestyle Program, your diet consists mainly of proteins and healthy fats. You get your carbs from nutritious green vegetables, like kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and the like.

The basic guidelines of the Hope Lifestyle Program are as follows:
-Eat organic meat, including chicken (with skin on to increase fat content), turkey, duck, quail, and grass-fed lean red meat. Meat should be broiled, baked, or sautéed, never fried. No breading or batter, and no processed meats.
-Fresh, wild-caught fish and shellfish are OK (in moderation because of heavy metal toxicity), as are organic eggs.
-Eat 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates from vegetables daily, unless you are a vegetarian, in which case aim for 30 grams of carbs. (There are good carb-value lists online.) Best choices are spinach, kale, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, asparagus, and bean sprouts. Enjoy all the garlic you want, but limit peppers, onions, and tomatoes.
-Consume nuts in moderation. They’re good protein sources that also provide healthy fats.
-For fats, organic olive oil, coconut, walnut, hemp, and avocado oils are all good choices, and you can also have organic mayonnaise and avocadoes.
–For beverages, I suggest fresh, filtered water, green tea, or organic, herbal teas. The only sweetener allowed is all-natural, calorie-free stevia.
Avoid starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets, butternut squash, and peas) and common carbs like bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, and alcohol.
-Even if you’re in fine health, please consult with your doctor before starting this or any other plan. Some people on the Hope plan become overly acidic. That’s easily corrected, but momentarily uncomfortable.

Supplements for Blood Sugar…and Brain

There are several nutritional supplements that help control blood sugar—with the far-reaching benefit of protecting the brain. Here are just a few of my top recommendations:

Berberine (1000 mg/day) is a compound found in several plants like barberry and goldenseal. Research has found that it is as effective as prescription meds for lowering blood sugar. It also reduces glucose production in the liver, and increases insulin sensitivity. Added bonus: It helps to lower cholesterol!

Chromium (400 mcg/day) is an essential trace mineral that is necessary for healthy blood sugar. It helps transport sugar from the blood into the cells, where it can be used for fuel. Some research shows that chromium aids in weight loss too—always a boon when it comes to managing diabetes.

Gymnemna sylvestre (400 mg/day) is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to balance blood sugar. It helps block sugar absorption in the intestines, and also increases insulin production.

Finally, it should go without saying that exercise is invaluable. Even a walk around the block can do wonders for your health. Likewise, an active mind and social life can add years of happy, healthy living.


Kassaar O, et al. Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientific Reports. 2017. Article number: 42874. doi:10.1038/srep42874.

“Control Your Blood Sugar to Help Protect Your Brain” Tufts University Health & Nutrition Newsletter. December 2013

Lan J. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol 2015 Feb 23;161:69-81.

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