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Could your love of carbs lead to dementia?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
High carbohydrate diet linked to dementia in older adults.

New findings from researchers show eating foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar could lead to memory loss, dementia and perhaps Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The finding is important for anyone looking for extra motivation to make dietary and lifestyle changes that can keep us healthier with aging.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota explored the link between mild memory loss and dementia among 937 aged 70 to 89 years who had no memory deficits at the start of the study.

The researchers followed the participants for an average of 3-years, finding that 200 people developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia that they linked to high intake of carbohydrates and sugar in the diet.

One of the reasons eating a high carb diet could lead to dementia is because the macronutrients affect how glucose and insulin act in the brain.

Rosebud O. Roberts, MD, ChB, an epidemiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, wrote in a press release, "Some people have described mild cognitive impairment as having diabetes in the brain because the sugar affects your brain in a way that is not good if you have too much of it, so with carbohydrate, we think that's what could be happening,"

What the researchers also found is that eating a high fat, high protein diet seems to decrease the risk of memory loss with aging.

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But that doesn’t mean you should eat a high fat diet. Rather, the finding suggests it’s important to control glucose levels in the brain to keep memory intact as we grow older.

Eating a variety of foods seems to provide synergy. For instance, a 2010 study shows people with higher levels of vitamin B-12 seem to have lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. B-12 helps break down fat and carbohydrates into glucose where it’s used for energy in the body.

Roberts says it’s about optimal balance. "We think it's important that dietary intake of fats, carbohydrate, and protein is balanced because each of these macronutrients has a specific role in the body."

If you want to reduce carbohydrates and sugar in your diet, consider replacing white bread with whole grain or wheat brands, snacking on unsalted roasted nuts to add protein and healthy fat and reaching for fruit instead of baked goods to satisfy a sweet craving. If you enjoy pasta, try wheat pasta to better control blood sugar surges. Sweet potatoes are a better choice than white that can lower the amount of carbohydrates in the diet.

The new study suggests eating too many carbohydrates and sugar and not enough protein and fats could lead to memory loss and dementia with aging.

Journal of Alzheimer’s disease
October, 2012

“Homocysteine and holotranscobalamin and the risk of Alzheimer disease
A longitudinal study”
October, 2010

Image credit: Morguefile



After researching Alzheimer's disease for the past 2 years (my mother has it), I've come to the conclusion that it is not glucose that is the problem but insulin. Excess insulin damages the brain and causes all kinds of other metabolic problems. Simple carbs spike your glucose and therefore insulin levels. There was a study done on this in 2006 by Qiu and Folstein (Neurobiology of Aging) saying the link is IDE - Insulin Degrading Enzyme which is responsible for clearing beta-amyloid from the brain. If you are deficient in IDE you will end up with too much insulin and too much beta-amyloid in your brain. There are polymorphisms of the IDE gene associated with Alzheimer's disease in a particular Chinese population. My mother has hypoglycemia and has been a vegetarian for 30 years and eats whole healthy foods. The researchers are missing the mark when they focus on glucose as the culprit. Glucose is only the trigger for what is actually doing the harm: insulin.
Thank you for sharing Amy. I hope researchers can keep uncovering the root cause of Alzheimer's disease so we can simply learn to prevent it. It's very difficult to see a loved one suffer from memory loss. Again, thank you and best to you.