Poor dietary choices, being overweight, and being inactive often lead to blood glucose problems. And research suggests that elevated blood glucose levels – in people with or without diabetes – may be linked with cognitive problems.
In a study published in August 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers followed more than 2,000 adults, with and without diabetes, for an average of almost seven years. At the start of the study, all of the participants were free of dementia, a group of disorders that includes Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Among the participants who did not have diabetes, risk for dementia increased with glucose levels. And among the participants with diabetes, risk for dementia rose along with glucose levels.
Diabetes was linked to cognitive function in a study published in September 2012 in Archives of Neurology. Scientists measured the degree of change in the mental abilities of more than 3,000 elderly adults over an average of nine years. The participants who began the study with diabetes had the poorest cognitive functioning both at the beginning and at the end of the study.
During the study period, 159 subjects developed diabetes. This group also had a higher decline in mental abilities, compared to those who stayed free of diabetes, though not quite as high as those who started the study with diabetes.
What’s the connection between blood glucose and the brain? Elevated blood glucose levels may damage blood vessels or increase inflammation in the brain. However, research does not yet confirm that higher blood glucose levels cause dementia or cognitive decline. Further, the problem may stem from insulin resistance – the underlying cause of Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
CONTROL YOUR GLUCOSE WITH DIET
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, work with your health care team to control your blood glucose levels. A healthy diet, regular exercise and medications, if necessary, are the cornerstones of any blood glucose control plan.
1. Lose weight, if you are overweight, to help lower blood glucose levels and prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes.
2. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and unsaturated fats. Limit overly processed foods like pretzels, snack cakes and macaroni and cheese mixes.
3. Eat more whole fruit than fruit juice.
4. Limit added sugars and syrups. You’ll find them in foods like sodas, sweetened teas, sweetened yogurt, granola bars, jarred spaghetti sauce and even bread and peanut butter.
5. Be physically active for at least 150 minutes each week, or as medically able.
6. Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized eating plan. Visit eatright.org to find one in your area.
Jill Weisenberger is a registered dietitian.