Alzheimer’s: The New Diabetes

By Bruce Fife, ND

Diabetes greatly increases the risk of many crippling and fatal conditions such as heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations. Recent studies have now added Alzheimer’s to the list. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

The brains of people with diabetes are about “10 years older” than the brains of same-age people without diabetes says Sudha Seshadri, MD, of Boston University. Recent findings suggest that diabetes speeds—and may even cause—Alzheimer’s disease. “In both men and women, diabetes is associated with lower brain volume,” says Seshadri. “The magnitude is quite substantial.”

Diabetes occurs as a result of a defect in insulin production or utilization. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to draw glucose, or blood sugar, out of the blood and put it into the cells. Glucose is the fuel that keeps our cells alive and functional. Without adequate glucose, cells literally starve to death; nerve tissue and blood vessels degenerate causing poor circulation in feet, legs, eyes, and other areas leading to tissue death and organ failure. The same process affects the brain.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by a genetic defect where the body is unable to manufacturer adequate amounts of insulin. It is usually evident in early childhood. Type 2 diabetes can develop in anyone and usually occurs sometime in mid-life. In type 2 diabetes the person may be able to produce a normal amount of insulin, but the cells have become unresponsive to it. This is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 percent of all cases of diabetes.

Recently, researchers have discovered a new type of insulin resistance—brain insulin resistance, where the brain is unable to access the insulin in the blood. As a result, brain cells are unable to utilize glucose, causing them to degenerate and die. This new type of insulin resistance is called type 3 diabetes. Type 3 diabetes is the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease.1 Systemic insulin resistance promotes brain insulin resistance. So if you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes you are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

When the cells become insulin resistant they have difficulty accessing the glucose in the blood, as a result glucose levels rise. Normal fasting blood glucose levels should be less than 90 mg/dl (5.0 mmol/l). Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when fasting blood sugar readings are at 126 mg/dl (7.0 mmol/l) or greater. A reading of 100 to 125 mg/dl (5.5 to 6.9 mmol/l) indicates the presence of moderate insulin resistance or prediabetes. Many millions of people are prediabetic and don’t even know it. They are all at risk of developing type 3 diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.

Because there are other factors that influence brain health, not all diabetics develop Alzheimer’s and not all Alzheimer’s patients have full blown diabetes. However, all Alzheimer’s patients do have brain insulin resistance. Therefore, anyone who has any level of insulin resistance is at high risk for Alzheimer’s.

Insulin resistance is caused by lifestyle choices. While having a parent who has insulin resistance can increase the risks, insulin resistance will only surface as a result of making certain lifestyle choices. Being overweight, consuming foods loaded with trans fatty acids or sugar, and being sedentary are all known to contribute to insulin resistance.

There is no medical cure for diabetes. Drugs can ease some of the symptoms by improving blood sugar control, but in no way can they be considered a cure. They must be taken daily and are often accompanied by adverse side effects.

Likewise, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Drugs used to treat the condition are only mildly effective. They may ease the symptoms slightly in about half of the people who use them but, they do nothing to stop or even slow down the progression of the disease. Side effects run the range of nausea and dizziness to seizures and death. The benefits of Alzheimer’s drugs are very subtle and their side effects potentially severe, so their use is highly questionable. These drugs are prescribed because medical science has no other options available.

The problem with the medical approach is the belief that all illnesses should be treated with drugs or surgery. Since insulin resistance is caused by lifestyle choices, it stands to reason that the best way to reverse the condition is by changing those factors that caused it in the first place.

This approach has worked very well with diabetes. Dietary changes and exercise can completely control insulin resistance. Some of the major steps needed to reverse brain insulin resistance and overcome Alzheimer’s are to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet, lose excess weight, start a regular exercise program, avoid foods containing trans fatty acids, and add coconut oil into your diet. These steps are effective in treating those who are already experiencing memory loss and for those who want to prevent Alzheimer’s altogether. It is even effective for those with diabetes.

High blood glucose is the distinguishing sign of insulin resistance. When we eat a meal, our bodies convert the carbohydrate in the food into glucose. If the meal contains a lot of carbohydrate (grains, legumes, sugar, starchy vegetables, fruits), blood glucose levels rise very high afterwards. In a healthy person, glucose levels are quickly brought down to normal. However, in an insulin resistant person glucose levels remain elevated for an extended period of time, cells are starved because they cannot get the glucose they need. In addition, high blood levels of glucose promotes inflammation and the formation of destructive molecules called advanced glycation end products that ignite free-radical reactions; all of which contribute to the symptoms associated with insulin resistance. It is therefore, vitally important to keep blood glucose levels under control. The best way to do that is to limit the amount of carbohydrate consumed. A low-carb diet will do this.

Consuming excess calories and being overweight contributes to insulin resistance. You can cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half by losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight. That equates to just 10 pounds for a 200 pound person.

Exercise can help you lose excess weight and keep it under control. It also helps to make cells more sensitive to insulin, reducing the effects of insulin resistance. Simply going for a 30-60 minute walk three days a week can have a significant impact on controlling insulin resistance.  Studies show that moderate exercise alone is more effective at improving memory and cognitive skills than any of the Alzheimer’s drugs currently on the market.2

Trans fatty acids are created when vegetables oils are hydrogenated. Avoid all foods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. This includes margarine and shortening. It is also a good idea to avoid all polyunsaturated vegetable oils as well because they promote inflammation which is one of the characteristic features of Alzheimer’s disease.

In place of margarine, shortening, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, use coconut oil for all your cooking and food preparation needs. Coconut oil is very heat stable, so it makes an excellent cooking oil. It can also be very helpful for those with diabetes or Alzheimer’s. It helps to keep blood sugar under control. When eaten with a meal it slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thus keeping blood glucose levels manageable. It can also ease inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity. But best of all, it can override the defect in glucose metabolism caused by insulin resistance which is common in diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the major problems with insulin resistance is that cells are unable to utilize glucose for energy production. Without glucose they sicken and die. As neurons in the brain are lost, the brain shrinks, and memory and cognitive skills decline.

Coconut oil is composed of a special group of fat molecules known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). When MCTs are consumed, a large portion of them are transformed by the liver into a superfuel called ketone bodies or ketones. Ketones act as an alternative fuel source to glucose. Ketones do not require insulin in order to enter the cells. Therefore, insulin resistance does not affect them. They are easily absorbed into the cells providing the cells with the energy they need to function and to thrive. Ketones are actually more efficient than glucose and pack a higher energy punch; that is why they are referred to as superfuel for the cells. It is like pouring a high potency fuel into your gas tank. All the cells in the body, except for those of the liver, can use ketones to satisfy their energy needs. Nerve cells are especially fond of ketones and prefer them over glucose. When coconut oil (which contains MCTs) is consumed on a regular basis, the body produces a continual supply of ketones that can feed the brain and keep it alive, active, and healthy.

Does the program work? Ask Dick Kerstiens of Westcliff, Colorado. His wife Betty began experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s five years earlier at the age of 71. The disease progressed to the point that she required full-time care from her husband. After reading an article by Dr. Julian Whitaker about the success of ketone therapy, Dick began giving her coconut oil twice daily. “In eight days,” says Dick, “she went from speaking gibberish to articulate speech!” Two weeks later they had friends over for the evening and he heard his wife laugh for the first time in nearly three years. Dick is overjoyed to have his wife back.

“This powerful natural therapy and possible cure for some of our most divesting diseases has been hiding in plain sight for years,” says Julian Whitaker, MD, Director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, Newport Beach, California. “I’m now recommending ketone therapy for all of my patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other neurodegenerative disorders.”3

As diabetes rates increase, so will Alzheimer’s. However, by combining coconut oil with a low-carb or ketogenic diet and exercise, both conditions can be prevented and even reversed.

References

1. de la Monte, S.M., et al. Impaired insulin and insulin-like growth factor expression and signaling mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease—is this type 3 diabetes? J Alzheimers Dis 2005;7:63-80.

2. Lautenschlager, N.T., et al. Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA 2008;300:1027-1037.

3. Whitaker, J. A Breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Disease. Health & Healing 2009;19:1-4.

Bruce Fife, ND is a certified nutritionist and naturopathic physician. He is the author of more than 20 books including The Coconut Oil Miracle and Coconut Cures. He serves as the director of the Coconut Research Center, www.coconutresearchcenter.org. The information in this article is based on his latest book Stop Alzheimer’s Now!: How to Prevent and Reverse Dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders.

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