It was announced at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event at Lighthouse Park in New Haven, Connecticut in October 2010 that based on current statistics 1 in 2 people will develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD). What can we do to change that? Scientists have known that this disease is typically associated with tangles and plaque in the brain, but the exact cause of these abnormalities has been hard to determine. We may now, however, be closer to a solution.
AD-diabetes of the brain?
Yes…according to Dr. Suzanne DeLaMonte, a Neuropathologist who regards AD as a brain form of diabetes. Most diabetics have Type 2 diabetes mellitus in which the body cells become resistant to insulin signals. In the early stages, insulin is not very effective in helping the brain to metabolize sugar, and so brain cells nearly starve to death. The pancreas increases insulin output to encourage cells to take up more sugar from the blood. These high levels may damage small blood vessels in the brain, and eventually lead to poor brain circulation, which partly explains why Type 2 diabetes harms the brain. In AD, the brain becomes resistant to insulin, which is otherwise important for neurotransmitter synthesis so neurons can communicate with each other. It also stimulates functions that are necessary in the formation of new memories and tasks that require learning and memory.
Insulin-is it made in the brain, too?
Yes…testing has shown that insulin is made in the neurons of the brain, and it is the same as that produced in the pancreas (although pancreatic insulin does not get into the brain very well). Every other gut hormone is also made in the brain, so it makes sense that insulin would be among them.
Diabetics and the obese-are they more likely to get AD?
Yes…and their risk is doubled. Obesity also increases the risk of mental decline or cognitive impairment. Also, there is considerable overlap between AD and diabetes. Before 1980, there was not much overlap between the two, and deaths from diabetes were declining (in the U.S.), due to improvements in modern medicine. Between 1980 and now, however, the death rate from AD and diabetes has soared. We have better medical treatments for diabetes than we did in the 1960s and 1970s so why should the death rates be so high now? A study that compared the AD death rates in 1980 with those in 2005 examined them according to age group (death rates in people between 45-54 years old, 55-64, 65-74, etc). Within every age group, the death rate was higher in 2005 than in 1980. Over that time period and until now, the AD death rates continued to climb on a yearly basis. Like AD, diabetes death rates also sharply increased.
Genes-do they cause AD?
Yes and no…it is not entirely genetic. The majority of AD occurs sporadically, and genetic diseases typically do not change over a 30-year period. That interval is too short to affect rates of genetic diseases that arise only in middle-aged or elderly people.
Nitrosamines-do they cause AD?
Possibly…there is evidence to suggest that exposure to nitrosamines is at the root cause of AD and other insulin-resistance diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and visceral obesity. Nitrosamines are cancer-causing agents and can be found in tobacco and several processed foods, which include fish, cheese, hotdogs, ground beef, bacon, smoked turkey and ham, and beer. Originally, nitrites were added to food for flavor, coloring, and as a preservative to prevent salmonella infection from contaminated meat. The elimination of local farms in favor of mega-farms contributed to the problem since long-distance food transport means the addition of preservatives to prolong shelf-life. Also, the addition of nitrates to fertilizers can be incorporated into produce and then converted to nitrites and then nitrosamines in the body. Even low chronic exposure can have cumulative effects.
Regardless of the efforts to minimize the addition of nitrosamines as preservatives, many societies are exposed to increasing amounts of them because they continue to consume processed foods. Scientists actually suspected some years ago that nitrosamines might cause diabetes. Recent reports showed that low, limited exposures to nitrosamines cause AD-type brain degeneration, dementia, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and obesity.
Dr. DeLaMonte said: “We were working on the idea that insulin resistance in the brain was an important cause of disease and injected another drug into the brain to see what would happen. Instead of getting what we were looking for, we found Alzheimer’s. Very soon after that, I realized that the drug I used was a nitrosamine. A bell went off in my head and suddenly I understood the problem. All of the major diseases related to insulin resistance, which are now epidemic in the United States, could be caused by exposure to low doses of nitrosamines over a period of years.” 
The take home message-how can I reduce my risk of developing AD?
Read labels (look for sodium nitrite), avoid processed foods, and eat organically grown. Advocate the return of farming to local environments to gain control over how food is produced and eliminate food preservatives. Educate the public, learn to cook, and provide only healthful food choices at home and in public schools. Eat healthy brain foods like lentils (contain fiber that regulates release of glucose to the brain), chia seeds (contain omega-3 fatty acids and keeps brain arteries plaque-free), cashews, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts (monounsaturated fats and magnesium important for nervous transmission signals), and drink coffee (keeps blood-brain barrier intact and inhibits entrance of cholesterol, high in antioxidants, monounsaturated). Also, exercise and play ping-pong (table tennis) to stave off AD. Make the effort to change those 1 in 2 statistics for developing AD, and eliminate the opportunity for it to infect our precious and wonderful minds.
Copyright ©2011 Joyce E.M. Wall