Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Diabetes is a leading cause of many health-robbing ills like heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure.  Now, more and more research is finding that Type 2 diabetes may also rob many people of their minds by raising the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Recent data have come from a long-running health survey called the Religious Orders Study, which closely followed 825 Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers from the Midwest, all age 55 and older, for more than nine years. It found that those with Type 2 diabetes had a 65% greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those without diabetes.*

In 1994, at the start of the study, all were Alzheimer’s-free, and 127 had diabetes. By the study’s end, 151 had developed Alzheimer’s; 35 of them had diabetes.

Other mental declines

Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center determined that having diabetes not only increased risk of Alzheimer’s but also that those diabetics who did not get Alzheimer’s did in fact suffer other mental declines compared to nondiabetics, most notably, a reduced “perceptual speed,” which the scientists defined as the speed with which the volunteers were able to detect similarities between a short string of numbers.

This research underscores the need, for all sorts of reasons – from human suffering to bloated federal expenditures – to reverse America’s diabetes epidemic.  Indeed, the world faces a “devastating diabetes epidemic,” scientists from the World Health Organization and the International Diabetes Foundation recently announced. Issuing a cry of alarm, the two health organizations stated that the number of diabetics worldwide would more than double from today’s 171 million to 366 million by the year 2030.

In the U.S. alone, about 18 million people have diabetes, and government health officials recently reported that 41 Americans have “pre-diabetes” – that is, blood sugar that is high enough (100 mg/dl or more on a fasting blood glucose test) to put them on the verge of getting full-blown diabetes.

Preventing Alzheimer’s

Now for the good news. Though doctors used to think there was nothing their patients could do to prevent Alzheimer’s, that it was just one of those awful things “that happened,” they are now realizing that Alzheimer’s appears to have risk factors, like diabetes, that are in fact very modifiable.

“Losing weight, getting blood sugar levels under control, and preventing diabetes are things that people can do something about,” stresses Dr. Zoe Arvanitakis, neurologist at Rush Medical Center and the study’s lead author.

And the benefits, as research on 652 diabetics attending the two-week program at Pritikin Longevity Center found, can happen very quickly.**

Of those in the early stages of the disease (not yet on medications) a full 76% lowered their blood sugar, or glucose, to the point where they were no longer defined as having diabetes. The simple remedy: two weeks of exercising daily and following the Pritikin Eating Plan, rich in natural, high-fiber carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

Of those diabetics entering Pritikin on oral drugs for diabetes control, an impressive 70% were able to get off drugs. In effect, “they reversed the disease.” notes the study’s lead author, Dr. James Barnard of UCLA Department of Physiological Science. Among the long-term diabetics, those taking insulin injections, nearly 40% were successful in getting off insulin.

Hearteningly so, a growing body of research is finding that other measures, also within our control, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, including lowering high blood pressure and exercising regularly.

Many are the very same lifestyle strategies that protect against a host of illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and many cancers.

“That’s the best news of all,” states Dr. William McCarthy, UCLA School of Public Health and member of the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board. “There really appears to be, if not a magic bullet, a magic combination – daily exercise and a healthy diet like the Pritikin Eating Plan – that produces immense benefits, for both the body and brain.”

* Archives of Neurology, 2004; 61: 661.

** Diabetes Care, 1994; 17: 1469.

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