A growing number of herbal and alternative remedies have become available as a means of preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Diabetes of the Brain

Diabetes of the Brain


Elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and its impact on Alzheimer’s disease are receiving more and more scrutiny of late.

In fact, some even refer to Alzheimer’s as diabetes of the brain. The potential link is being investigated by a broader scope of researchers as more evidence points towards the importance of blood sugar regulation for many reasons, including decreasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the side effects of elevated blood sugar is damage to the lining of blood vessels. When this happens with blood vessels to the eyes, we see increased risk of diabetic retinopathy, but it is now suspected that the same process can damage cerebral blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to setting things in motion for Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a study from the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (October 2013), “recent evidence indicates damaged cerebral blood vessels compromised by high blood sugar play a role.” An even newer study from the Journal of Neuroscience (April 2015) addresses the increasing body of evidence that suggests a significant increase for those with Type 2 diabetes and the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. This study identified the critical role of a particular low-density lipoprotein and how it interacts with insulin receptors in the brain. The researchers found that hyperglycemia inhibits the impact of this lipoprotein and worsens insulin resistance and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood sugar regulation

So what can be done to help with blood sugar regulation? The first and most important step is to find out what your fasting blood sugar level is. In addition to a fasting blood sugar test, it is also useful to get a glycosylated hemoglobin test, known as HbA1c. This test measures longer-term blood sugar regulation (over the previous three months) and lets us see what the average blood sugar level has been.

Evidence suggests a significant increase for those with Type 2 diabetes and the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If you discover your blood sugar is in the questionable zone but doesn’t require further intervention, the next step would be to implement a tighter rein over the frequency and consistency of your meals. Eating smaller meals more often, every 2 ½ to 3 hours, which contain adequate protein based on your weight and health, as well as complex carbohydrates and a whole foods diet, can help dramatically change your blood sugar numbers and overall health.

Protein plays a role

When eating, the first bite should ideally be protein, to help rein in blood sugar, and pay attention to where the glycemic index of food reaches. High-glycemic-index foods enter the blood stream quickly and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. It is most important to include soluble fibre, such as oats, beans, barley, etc., which acts like a speed bump to slow entry of sugar into the bloodstream. It’s an equalizer, if you will, to help keep everything entering the blood at a more timely pace, and ultimately helps to reduce blood sugar over time.

Fibre as a supplement

Often people find it useful to take additional fibre as a supplement. When doing so, it is important to take additional water with the supplement, as fibre needs water to swell up and become a semi permeable barrier. I often tell patients, fibre is like a baseball mitt that catches and slows down most things coming its way. With that in mind, the potential down side to fibre is that it can also slow down prescription medications that you might be taking. Therefore, it is important to check with a health care provider if you are on pharmaceutical medications and to try to distance the fibre from any other medications by as long a timeline as possible. Another beneficial supplement that helps with both pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes is Chromium. Chromium is a trace mineral and works by helping to improve the body’s response to insulin. It has been shown to help correct blood sugar in those with early stage blood sugar dysregulation, but it also helps to improve insulin responsiveness for those with Type 2 Diabetes.


About the author

Dr. Alison O'Brien-Moran, ND

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