Recent studies conclude that high glucose levels can negatively affect memory and impair cognition. One study of more than 4,200 people, conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine, found that those who consumed more sugary drinks had poorer memory and reduced overall brain volume, particularly in the area of the brain that stores short-term memory (the hippocampus). Consuming more than two sugary drinks per day corresponded to 11 years of brain aging in terms of memory! Even one drink a day had significant impact.
Think you’re okay with diet soda? Not so fast.
“Our findings indicate an association between higher sugary beverage intake and brain atrophy, including lower brain volume and poorer memory,” explained corresponding author Matthew Pase, PhD, fellow in the department of neurology at BUSM and investigator at the FHS. “We also found that people drinking diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia. This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” he said.
Research of the diabetic population further substantiates this research. Individuals with diabetes, a condition that causes elevated high blood sugar levels are known to have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. It seems that the brain in type II diabetes, just like the body, has difficulty utilizing sugar for energy and this can lead to slower processing when it comes to memory retrieval. Another way that high blood sugar can contribute to damaging the brain is contributing to hardening of the arteries thereby leading to decrease blood flow to key areas of the brain.
So is sugar all bad? Of course not, we need sugar or glucose for energy.
What is Glucose?
Glucose is the primary metabolic fuel in the body. It is formed when carbohydrates are broken down in the body. Insulin (created by your pancreas) helps move the glucose from your blood into the cells where it is metabolized to create energy. An imbalance of blood sugar and insulin can cause hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low), or hyperglycemia (blood sugar that is too high or diabetes).
What is Hyperglycemia? – too much blood sugar
Hyperglycemia occurs when the body loses the ability to regulate blood sugar and the glucose in the blood becomes too high. If the sugar in the blood remains high for an extended period of time then that person can develop diabetes. There are two ways to measure glucose in the blood, one way is after fasting for a period of eight hours or more and the other way is measuring the blood sugar after eating, referred to as postprandial blood sugar. More often than not your doctor will measure your fasting blood sugarlevels.
What is Hypoglycemia?- not enough blood sugar
Hypoglycemia refers to the condition when there is not enough sugar in the blood to maintain normal cellular function. The good news is that the body has several mechanisms in place to keep the blood glucose within normal range so we can continue to function normally during times of high stress. There are times, however, when these mechanism are not enough or are compromised. This can occur if there is a prolonged period of fasting, if you are taking certain medications such as insulin or secondary to illness. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include confusion, foggy thinking, angry outburst, heavy sweating, feelings of anxiety, shaky arms and legs and fatigue. In extreme cases individuals can lose consciousness because the brain is being deprived of its primary fuel source.
Healthy ways to include sugar in your diet
The following are healthy ways to ensure that your body has enough glucose to keep it functioning at peak efficiency:
- Fruits can provide natural forms of sugar that also contain nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber and are also rich in antioxidants. Fruits like blueberry, black berries and purple grapes have been shown to protect the brain from the damage caused by aging.
- If you need a touch of sweet avoid refined sugars that are stripped of any nutrients and opt instead for unfiltered honey or a touch of agave syrup. These still contain higher amounts of sugar so moderation is the key. An idea for dessert, combine lemon zest, a little agave syrup, water and a touch of vanilla. Warm in saucepan until smooth. Pure over your favorite berries. Want it a little creamier? Add some Greek yogurt.
- Remember the body’s need for glucose can be obtained from complex carbohydrates and whole grain products that are high in fiber. These foods slowly release glucose into the blood so the body can use it at its own pace thus avoiding blood sugar swings. Foods that fall into this category are whole grain pasta, quinoa, beans and whole grain toast. Other foods to consider are sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Try this simple recipe: bake or microwave a small to medium size sweet potato, cut open, mash the contents, pour a little honey, sprinkle a little cinnamon, top with a little Greek yogurt and enjoy.
- Avoid all products that contain high fructose corn syrup. This is a concentrated form of sugar that has been linked to fatty liver disease, obesity and also implicated in accelerating memory impairment. If possible avoid artificial sweeteners as they have been linked to increased risk of obesity.