While many of us are concerned about keeping our skin youthful and our bodies agile, what about our minds? Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is on the rise, affecting more individuals each year – a beautiful mind (along with glowing skin and a healthy body!) might be just the place to focus our anti-aging efforts these days.
Based on the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 annual report, Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, with it being the 6th cause of death in the U.S. Probably the most shocking statistic is that 1 in 3 American seniors dies with dementia. That’s one third of the senior population! AD costs $305 billion dollars each year; by 2050, dementia related costs are predicted to rise to as much as $1.1 trillion. The majority of primary care doctors believe that the healthcare system is not prepared for the exponential rise in Alzheimer’s disease that we will experience in the coming decades.
So, what can we do about these astounding numbers and how can we ensure, within our own lives and families, that we see these numbers level off? While Alzheimer’s disease has many causes, new studies show that too much sugar in your diet could be the key determining factor in who gets the disease and who doesn’t.
A new study published in September 2020 in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience, presents the hypothesis that cerebral fructose metabolism could be a driving factor in Alzheimer’s disease etiology. What is cerebral fructose metabolism? When we consume excessive amounts of sugar, our bodies are triggered into a state of metabolic dysfunction and as a result, our brains produce an abundance of simple carbohydrates (essentially an over-excitement in the brain from all the sugar). This process in the brain deprives our bodies of the cerebral energy needed to perform neurological functions. Over time, this process withers brain neurons, triggering early stages of AD.
How can we take these findings and make positive, actionable changes in our lives to help prevent AD in ourselves and in our children? In very basic terms, avoid processed sugar. This may be an unrealistic goal for many of us, so the next question may be… How much is okay? This varies from person to person because we all have different genetic, metabolic and microbial characteristics. As a rule of thumb, we recommend consuming no more than 10 grams of processed sugar daily. This will look very different if you consult the USDA recommendations (touting an acceptable limit of somewhere around 50 grams of processed sugar daily), so keep that in mind.
In the occasion that you do consume a sugary treat (especially as the holidays approach us), consume it along with a meal packed with unprocessed plant fiber (think vegetables and legumes). What about fruit? Yes, fruit contains lots of fructose, but most experts, including Dr. Chutkan, believe that the large amounts of plant fiber in fruit outweigh the fructose it contains.
While we are spreading this information in hopes that younger generations can decrease sugar consumption to prevent AD, researchers may use these findings to develop novel treatments for those with AD, specifically inhibiting fructose metabolism within the brain.