One of the main causes of cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s disease is inflammation. Inflammation is closely linked to metabolism, which is affected by what you eat, your activity level, predestined genes and exposure to and how you handle stress. Since diet, activity and stress also affect cardiovascular health, and many other aspects of your well-being, brain health and your general health have a close relationship.
It’s then no surprise that there are so many conditions that increase our risk for Alzheimer’s disease, like a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. And while there are many factors that cause inflammation in our bodies, here we will explore the role that inflammation caused by diet plays in Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that this is one area where we have absolute control. With a little bit of education, we can make choices about what we put into our bodies that greatly affects our Alzheimer’s and dementia risk. Since we are always looking at the impact of this research with an eye toward the will contest and trust contest case, it is simple to note only that inflammation triggers are something the careful estate lawyer will note and observe during the progress of discovery.
What causes inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s response to attack. When we cut ourselves and the area becomes red and aggravated, that’s a part of the inflammatory process and your white blood cells are actively fending off infection. This reaction happens every time there is an invader in our body, whether from an infectious disease like Lyme disease or non-infectious stresses such sugar and trans-fats in our diet.
But isn’t this process important?
While it’s necessary for the immune system to jump into action, problems arise when the threat is constant and the inflammatory response is continuously activated.
What happens in the body when inflammation is acute? Our bodies respond to invading pathogens by producing amyloid, the exact substance that forms the brain plaques that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease1. While amyloid is a powerful pathogen fighter, scientific evidence points to the conclusion that the body eventually overproduces it, which ends up killing the synapses and brain cells the amyloid was called up to protect2 . The key to blocking the production of brain plaques is to reduce exposure to inflammation that arises without infection. This can be done primarily by making simple, dietary adjustments.
What foods cause inflammation?
The primary culprits that cause an inflammatory response are trans fats, sugars and in some people, the consumption of dairy, gluten and grains.
Trans-fats are those bad-for-you artificial fats present in packaged goods and fast food that are now being phased out. You of course know what sugar is, and it’s shockingly hidden in many innocuous foods. We will go into detail on that score in a moment.
Mounting evidence shows that in some the consumption of dairy, gluten and grains damages the intestines which prompts an inflammatory response. In this condition, called “leaky gut,” the gastrointestinal tract develops microscopic holes, which allows fragments of food or bacteria into the bloodstream. The immune system identifies these items as foreign invaders and activates a response.
Let’s talk about sugar. What happens in our bodies when we consume too much?
Over consumption of sugar is typically accompanied by insulin resistance, which results in Type 2 diabetes.
Evolutionarily speaking, as humans, we are made to only handle a small amount of sugar, about 15 grams a day, less than the amount in a 12-ounce soft drink. Our bodies recognize excess sugar as poison and activate several stress responses to combat this enemy. First of all, sugar converts to extra energy that the body does not need to function, and that extra energy is stored as fat. Excess fat produces brain-damaging factors called adipokines.
Even with that extra energy stored as fat, our bloodstream is still flooded with sugar, specifically glucose. Glucose molecules attach to many proteins, inhibiting their function. Cells respond to the flood of glucose by increasing the production of insulin that will reduce its presence in the bloodstream by pushing it into cells. But once your body is exposed to chronically high insulin levels, it turns down its insulin response and you become resistant to its effect. This is when Type 2 diabetes occurs.
So how is excess insulin related to an increased risk in Alzheimer’s disease?
After insulin molecules lower the glucose level, the body produces an insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) to prevent the blood glucose level from dropping too low. It has been found that IDE degrades amyloid, the protein fragment in the sticky synapse-destroying plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. But the enzyme can’t break down insulin and amyloid all at once. It’s just like how a firefighter with one hose can’t fight a fire in the attic and basement at the same time. By diverting IDE from destroying amyloid, chronically high levels of insulin increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Making the choice to greatly reduce your sugar intake and to address the risks that dairy, gluten and other grains pose for each individual, is the first step in taking control of not only your health, but your brain health.
1Amyloid is antimicrobial Kumar, D. K. et al. Amyloid-beta peptide protects against microbial infection in mouse and worm models of Alzheimer’s disease. Science translational medicine 8 , 340ra372, doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf1059 (2016).
2Amyloid is antimicrobial Kumar, D. K., Eimer, W. A., Tanzi, R. E. & Moir, R. D. Alzheimer’s disease: the potential therapeutic role of the natural antibiotic amyloid-beta peptide. Neurodegenerative disease management 6, 345-348, doi:10.2217/nmt-2016-0035 (2016).
THE END OF ALZHEIMER’S by Dale E. Bredesen, Copyright © 2017