Deadly connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s—part 1

With skyrocketing incidence rates that are expected to soar even higher in the future, diabetes is rapidly transforming the health landscape of the United States and other Western nations. It is no exaggeration to say that diabetes now looms as one of the most costly, destructive medical epidemics of the early 21st century.

Those affected with diabetes face a host of insidious health threats that include heart disease, impotence, stroke and blindness, to name just a few. Even worse, new research suggests that those with insulin resistance or diabetes are at significantly higher risk of developing one of today’s most devastating and incurable neurological disorders: Alzheimer’s disease.

The emerging connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s is yet another compelling reason for those who value their health to address issues of impaired insulin sensitivity before it is too late. Although diabetes is an emerging epidemic, it is also wholly preventable and reversible through strategies that incorporate dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and nutritional supplementation.

Achieving and maintaining optimal blood sugar and insulin sensitivity may thus be one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself against an array of life-threatening conditions—including diabetes and mind-destroying dementia.

Type II diabetes fuels a growing epidemic

Nearly 21 million adults and children in the U.S. have diabetes, while an estimated 41 million between the ages of 40 and 74 have pre-diabetes. Type I diabetes, which affects fewer than 2 million in the U.S., occurs when the body does not produce adequate levels of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. If not present, insulin cannot do its job of moving glucose (blood sugar) into cells. Since all cells in the body use glucose as fuel, not producing enough insulin can be a deadly problem.

The far more common form of the disease is Type II diabetes. In the later stages, people will often need insulin; in the early stages, however, the pancreas often secretes too much insulin. This occurs because of insulin resistance, in which the body cannot utilize insulin efficiently to move glucose into cells, causing the pancreas to work harder. Over a period of years and decades, the pancreas is no longer able to produce sufficient insulin. At this point, type II diabetics require insulin injections.

Diabetes promotes damaging

advanced glycation end products

The many ways in which insulin resistance and diabetes can damage one’s health are now widely recognized by most doctors. High blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and nerves, which in turn can lead to such debilitations as blindness, kidney damage, and heart disease, and eventually to an early death. However, what many mainstream physicians may not be aware of is that diabetes can also lead to the formation of damaging substances known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.

Advanced glycation end products are sugar-derived substances that form in the human body through the interaction between carbohydrates and proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids such as DNA. Once formed, AGEs adversely affect the structure and function of proteins and the tissues that contain these proteins… Recent studies have shown that both the formation and accumulation of AGEs are enhanced in diabetes. These proteins damaged by the glycation process may thus play an important role in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications—and, as we shall see, in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Advanced glycation end products become even more destructive when coupled with free radicals formed during cellular energy production. These highly reactive agents produce oxidative stress that can cause cellular damage. Researchers now believe that oxidative stress may be involved in the formation of advanced glycation end products, which in turn may induce even more oxidative stress. In fact, most AGEs that accumulate in proteins are produced under conditions of high oxidative stress. New evidence shows that oxidative stress may be an important causative factor in both insulin resistance and type II diabetes.

Oxidative stress, AGEs implicated in development of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurological condition that slowly but inexorably destroys the ability to think, eventually robbing a person of both his memory and ability to function independently… Alzheimer’s disease now affects more than 15 million people worldwide. With the rapid aging of society (an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older by 2050), upwards of 14 million Americans are projected to develop Alzheimer’s in the coming decades.

While medical researchers have yet to pinpoint a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, they have uncovered some of the basic biochemical processes that underlie the hallmark mental changes seen in Alzheimer’s.

First, Alzheimer’s sufferers exhibit a marked decline in levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter… that is vitally important to memory formation and retention in certain regions of the brain. Second, Alzheimer’s patients demonstrate an accumulation of harmful beta amyloid deposits, or senile plaques, in the brain. Third, brain autopsies of Alzheimer’s patients show signs of significant oxidative damage induced by free radicals. Finally, new research indicates that advanced glycation end products may also initiate this dreaded condition.

A newly published review article examines the role of AGEs and oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists found that advanced glycation end products were present in higher amounts in the biopsied brains of patients who had died from Alzheimer’s than in those who died from other causes. They also presented evidence that AGEs form in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers early in the disease process.

Edward R. Rosick, DO, MPH, DABHM, is a board-certified physician in preventive and holistic medicine, and assistant professor of medicine at Michigan State University. Reprinted by permission from the December 2006 issue of Life Extension magazine, publication of the Life Extension Foundation, 1100 W. Commercial Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309.

From the Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue

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