Sugar and Brain Health: How to Keep Your Marbles As You Age

 

We all know that sugar is not good for the waistline. But do you know the effect sugar has on your brain health? Sugar is perhaps the best-known offender when it comes to your ability to think, learn, and remember—and develop stroke and dementia, including Alzheimer’s.  Eating more sugar doubles your risk of cognitive impairment.1 Too much sugar can give rise to inflammation, usually originating in the gut, causing neurodegeneration (nerve cell breakdown) and ultimately leading to memory loss. Women are already at a much higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s than men. I want to help as many women as possible to maintain optimal brain health as they age. Reducing sugar intake is one of the most important steps in keeping your brain healthy.

Cognitive Decline and Blood Sugar Management

60% of cognitive decline can be prevented by managing blood sugar 2, so it’s vital to get your blood sugar in the Goldilocks range, where it’s not too high and not too low. I want people to care about their blood sugar as much as they do about their retirement accounts. Your brain health is your greatest wealth.

Alzheimer’s and the High Blood Sugar Connection

Amyloid beta is a toxin that accumulates in the brain that is believed to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.3 The body has its own natural ability to fight toxins that build up in the body. However, when the body is constantly trying to defend itself against the daily onslaught of stresses and environmental toxins of modern life, these toxin fighters are overwhelmed.

This is what happens in the case of amyloid beta. Our body cleans up this brain toxin with an enzyme called insulin-degrading enzyme. This is the exact same enzyme or substance that the body uses to process insulin after it is used.4Here’s the problem: this enzyme can’t do both jobs at once. If the enzyme is busy breaking down insulin because your blood sugar is too high —thereby cranking out the insulin to try to drive the blood glucose into cells—your insulin-degrading enzyme won’t be free to break down amyloid beta.

The sticky amyloid beta builds up just like plaque in your arteries or on your teeth. This plaque in your brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. When amyloid beta builds up beyond a certain point, it becomes toxic to nerve cells, destroys synapses (the connections between nerve cells), and promotes brain inflammation, which then promotes more toxic amyloid beta accumulation. High blood sugar and amyloid beta accumulation become a vicious cycle you want to avoid—unless you prefer to lose your marbles as you age!

Optimal Blood Sugar Levels

Do you want to be “normal” or optimal? There are “normal” fasting plasma glucose guidelines that are used to determine if intervention or medication is required. This means that if you have a blood sugar level of 99 mg/dL or an HA1C of 5.5%, these levels won’t raise a red flag or perhaps even an eyebrow by your doctor.

However, I want you to aim for optimal levels of blood sugar.

Fasting Plasma Glucose Level Guidelines:

Optimal = 70 to 85 mg/dL

“Normal” = less than 100 mg/dL

Prediabetes = 100 to 125 mg/dL

Diabetes = 126 mg/dL or higher

Hemoglobin A1C (average level of blood sugar over the last 3 months)

Optimal < 5%

“Normal” = between 4% and 5.6%

Prediabetes = 5.7% and 6.4%

Diabetes = 6.5% or higher

I recommend keeping your fasting blood sugar between 70 to 85 mg/dL and hemoglobin A1C <5

Diet modifications and nutrition are always first in any of my protocols when making improvements to your health. Where appropriate, supplements can be added to that protocol.

Supplements that Lower Blood Sugar

Berberine is one of the supplements proven to help you normalize serum glucose.5  Not only that, berberine will cool inflammation in your body, lower cholesterol, assist weight loss, and behaves like an antioxidant. I recommend it to patients when their blood sugar is greater than 85 mg/dL. Take 300 to 500 milligrams once to three times per day, which has been shown to activate an important enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMP, nicknamed “metabolic master switch.” Talk to your pharmacist if you take medications (such as certain antibiotics) to make sure it doesn’t interfere with drug metabolism.

Simple Steps for Managing your Blood Sugar

  1. Know your levels.  Getting a blood test done with your medical doctor is the first step to taking control. Once you know your levels, you can also continue to test yourself. Get the details here on how to test your blood sugar at home.
  2. Make changes to your diet to reduce the number of sugary foods or drinks you have a day. Reducing sugar cravings can be difficult. Crave Control can help.
  3. Exercise 30 mins a day at least or as close to that amount as you can. Add in HIIT exercises to make your muscles hungry for glucose so the sugar gets pulled out of your bloodstream. Exercise just twice per week in midlife cuts your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia later in life by more than half.6
  4. Reduce stress levels so that cortisol does not drive up blood sugar levels. Meditate, pray, spend time with your best friends, walk in nature, even knitting can reduce stress levels. If you are overwhelmed with work, children or taking care of a family member, please ask for help, even if it is for 30 mins a day so you can go for a walk in the fresh air.

Want to learn more? Read about the simple steps that helped this 45-year-old woman gain control of her blood sugar.


  1. Ye, (2011), “Habitual Sugar Intake and Cognitive Function Among Middle-Aged and Older Puerto Ricans Without Diabetes”
  2. M. A. Schilling, “Unraveling Alzheimer’s: Making Sense of the Relationship Between Diabetes and
    Alzheimer’s Disease,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 51, no. 4 (2016): 961–77.
  3. V. Kurochkin et al., “Insulin-Degrading Enzyme in the Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease,” Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 39, no. 1 (2017): 49–58
  4. Haque et al., “Insulin-Degrading Enzyme: A Link Between Alzheimer’s and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” CNS & Neurological Disorders–Drug Targets 13, no. 2 (2014): 259–64; O. Pivovarova et al.
  5. Zhang, Y., et al. “Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93, no. 7 (2008): 2559-2565
  6. V. Teixeira et al., “Relation Between Aerobic Fitness and Brain Structures in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment Elderly,” Age 38, no. 3 (2016): 51.

This article by was originally published at https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/sugar-and-brain-health-how-to-keep-your-marbles-as-you-age/

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