Some fascinating findings on the link between blood sugar and memory have been recently released. Lets discuss the effects of high blood sugar levels on our minds.
In 2015, Australian researchers found that high-normal blood sugar levels are associated with increased risk of developing cognitive concerns later in life (age 60 and over). In 2011, a report (1) found one-third of Americans are currently pre-diabetic, putting 100 million Americans at significant risk for mental and cognitive concerns. Many people don’t realize that you can eat healthy treats and still be in the pre-diabetic zone. For example dried fruits are a lot higher in sugar than fresh fruit, so should be eaten in less amounts. If you do enjoy dried fruit, eat in moderation and be sure the dried fruit is unsweetened.
Blood Sugar and our Minds:
There are two simple theories linking elevated blood sugars to cognitive and mental clarity later in our lives:
Theory 1: Often, cognitive decline is due to a process by which excess amyloid plaque builds up in the brain, reducing brain function. While many ideas exist as to why this plaque accumulates, one common idea is that it is due to a lack of a protein called insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE). This protein’s role is to take out excess sugar-carrying insulin and amyloid plaque from the brain. If this enzyme is too busy removing insulin and excess sugar from the brain due to high blood sugar levels, there may not be enough to also remove excess plaque, thereby significantly elevating the risk of cognitive and mental clarity issues.
How Insulin Resistance Works: When blood sugars rise, the pancreas makes more insulin to drive the sugar into the cells. If the sugars stay high due to a diet high in simple carbs and/or sugars, the muscles and brain cells can become resistant to up-taking sugar.
Theory 2: Elevated sugar in the blood tends to oxidize easily and begins to attach to circulating proteins in a process called glycation. In this process, proteins and sugars stick together and may attach to and thicken the arterial walls in both the heart and the brain. These formations linking protein and sugar are known as advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, and are a type of free radical. Recent studies indicate a link between those products and cognitive decline. (2)
Prevention before Cure: Both of these theories regarding the cause of cognitive decline indicate that it stems from excess sugar in the blood, so we can agree on the method for prevention. The key is early detection of any blood sugar regulation issues, and a diet and lifestyle that can both prevent and reverse blood sugar levels that are outside of the optimal range.
How to clear away your brain fog
Brain Fog is quite common, affecting thousands of people including children. We’ve all had those days when we have difficulty focusing, concentrating or thinking straight. If this occurs regularly, you may be suffering from “brain fog”. In severe cases, brain fog can have a significant detrimental impact on our mental health, affecting both our work and personal lives. We live in a world where we move less, eat more and our brains bombarded with information on a scale that was unimaginable 40 or 50 years ago. For the brain to function well, it needs a steady supply of oxygen, blood and nutrients, as well as the right amount of stimulation, or arousal. The brain resembles a muscle. And if it’s overworked, without sufficient recovery, its performance starts to deteriorate markedly.
Here are some of the best things you can do to clear your mind:
The role that food plays in the brain is widely underestimated. Chemical messengers in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, are made from amino acids, which we mostly derive from what we eat. Omega-3 fats are crucial to optimal brain function, coating neurons and speeding up transmission, and a lack of omega-3s is associated with depression. As much as possible, avoid trans fats (which accumulate in synapses, impacting all brain communication), and saturated fats, which are known to destroy neurons.
What to eat: The best foods for the brain are found in a Mediterranean diet high in oily fish and nuts, avocado and olive oil (which are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats), and unprocessed carbohydrates such as oats, grainy bread and legumes.
Eliminate all soft drinks, minimise caffeine, processed carbohydrates, junk food and never skip breakfast!
Brain-Healthy Foods – Green leafy vegetables – Nuts – Berries – Beans – Olive oil – Fish – Poultry – Whole grains
The following foods help boost our memories: Sweet potatoes, okra, spinach, oranges, carrots, milk, ghee (clarified butter), tapioca, and almonds (3)
Physical activity provides much needed oxygen and blood flow to the brain. It stimulates the expression of hundreds of protective genes, and grows new neurons and helps them survive.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase brain volume and to improve memory, concentration and executive function (complex thought and planning ability).
REST and RECUPERATE
We’re now realising the importance of a good nights’ sleep for brain function. People who are chronically sleep deprived show reductions in the size of some brain areas. Aim for a minimum of 7.5 hours per night.
At work, schedule in short breaks for every 90 minutes – go for a quick walk or drink some water, and breathe deeply for a couple of minutes.
STAMP OUT STRESS
Stress is driven by two chemicals, dopamine and noradrenaline. Too little creates apathy and poor performance, whereas too much inhibits the brain’s prefrontal cortex and brain cells can literally die from overstimulation. Information overload causes over-arousal in the brain.
Restore the calm:
- Catch your breath. Breathe slowly, exhaling for longer than breathing in. This will lower stress levels within one to two minutes.
- Reappraise. Look for the silver lining in the situation, and focus on what you can control.
- Work out. Build resilience to stress over the long-term by doing vigorous exercise. As well as burning up stress hormones, intense training creates heat-shock proteins that improve your defences against stress.