Have you heard of type three diabetes? I had not until I was recently researching the effects of food consumption on memory decline and loss. Apparently, sugar has now been implicated in dementia, not just diabetes and heart disease. If you or someone you love is plagued with memory loss and/or subtle speech impairment such as mispronouncing or forgetting words, read on!
The Evolution of Sugar
Way back, humans used taste as a defense mechanism, in fact, animals still do. Sweet-tasting plants, berries etc meant they were healthy, ripe, and edible while sour or bitter food sources often meant they were poisonous.
Sugar is necessary in our diets for brain function as glucose (sugar) provides the fuel for energy. The problem is, we only need twenty-four grams, or six teaspoons, daily for optimal brain function. Most people consume much more than that!
Our food has changed dramatically over the last few decades with sugar added to enhance the taste of most packaged items. With busier lives, and convenience a priority, we tend to purchase and consume more of these sugar-laden packaged foods, instead of opting for fresh, sugar-free produce.
Brains Hoard Excess Sugar
Anything more than that six teaspoons daily is literally hoarded in the brain in the form of a crystalized sugar coating on our neurons. Neurons are the nerve cells in the brain. This coating causes the neurons to become brittle so they cannot function properly, creating irritability and brain fog. Long-term overconsumption leads to memory loss. For this reason, dementia is now referred to as type three diabetes.
Foods to Avoid
Unfortunately, neurons are the only cells that cannot regenerate but they can be repaired with a better, sugar-reduced diet. This list from the college of naturopathic medicine (CNM) tells you which foods to avoid to reverse or prevent type three diabetes:
- Refined carbohydrates including pasta, bread, pastries, pizza, pies, cakes due to their high sugar content. Wholemeal carbohydrates (wholemeal pasta, bread) can be eaten in small amounts.
- Snacks (including those marketed as healthy) such as chips, chocolate, and cakes. Granola/energy/protein bars, crackers, and pretzels are high in sugar and damaged oils which are not good for brain health.
- Artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) as they are made with chemicals and ingredients such as phenylalanine that have been linked to behavioral and cognitive issues. Phenylalanine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and disrupt neurotransmitter production (these are the chemical messengers used by the nervous system).
- Sugary drinks including juices, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks. They all contain huge amounts of sugar which is detrimental for brain health as it causes inflammation in the brain which contributes to memory loss. Another ingredient in many of these drinks is a sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup. The body does not metabolize fructose well so consuming large amounts of it can lead to diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and obesity, all of which can increase your risk of dementia. Instead, drink filtered water, with lemon or cucumber to give it more taste. Avoid sparkling water as it can negatively impact digestion, bone health, and teeth due to its acidity.
- High-sugar fruits such as mangoes, lychees, passionfruit, and cherries should only be eaten in small amounts. It’s much better to stick to low-sugar fruits including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi fruit, and grapefruit.
- Hydrogenated oils (also known as trans fats) are a type of unsaturated fat found in refined vegetable oils (such as rapeseed oil), margarine, baked products (muffins, pizza, cookies, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, sausage rolls), microwave popcorn, shortening, fried foods (fries, hamburgers, battered fish), coffee creamers, chips, and crackers. Trans fats are linked to cognitive decline and reduced memory. They can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Ready-made meals and packaged/ processed foods including sauces and condiments, instant noodles, pizzas, deli meats and hams, savoury snacks, breakfast cereals, baked beans, spaghetti hoops, and tinned soups. These foods are high in sugar and salt, and often contain hydrogenated oils; all of which negatively affect brain health. Processed foods reduce the production of a brain-derived molecule called neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is responsible for long-term memory, learning, and the growth of new brain cells.
- Pasteurized dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese can negatively affect the gut (and therefore brain health) as dairy is both acidic and inflammatory.
- Certain types of fish including tuna, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel as they contain high levels of mercury which is a heavy metal. Mercury accumulates in the body and gets stored in the brain, liver, and kidneys. In pregnant women, mercury accumulates in the placenta and fetus. It is a neurotoxin that causes havoc to the central nervous system and damage to the brain.
- Alcohol is very inflammatory and causes certain metabolic changes in the body. When drunk in large amounts, alcohol can damage the nerve cells of the brain (neurons), making it difficult for brain cells to communicate. This can lead to memory loss and issues with eyesight and balance.
- Coffee is a nervous system stimulant that triggers the stress response in the body. It can surge adrenaline and cortisol production which increases heart rate and blood pressure, and the release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. Drinking coffee can interrupt sleep, negatively affect blood sugar levels and contribute to anxiety. Try a coffee alternative such as chicory root coffee (caffeine-free), turmeric latte, or ginger tea.
Foods to Consume
The CNM also recommends the following brain-boosting herbs:
- Gingko biloba. …
- Gotu kola. …
- Bacopa monnieri.
- Rosemary. …
- Cayenne pepper.
A probiotic diet has been shown to clean out the sugar crystals that coat neurons in the brain. That’s due to the important connection between the brain and the gut which are connected by the vagus nerve running from the brain through the gastrointestinal system to the adrenal glands. In other words, a healthy gut means a healthy brain. Probiotics improve the health of your gut; just be sure to research the type of probiotic you use as many are destroyed by the acid in our stomachs. There are supplements available that dissolve in your mouth instead.
Probiotics such as Kimchi or Korean cabbage have been said to regulate sugar in the brain due to that important connection above. According to Healthline, other common probiotic foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, (a salty, Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans), kombucha (fermented green or black tea), pickles fermented in salt (but not made with vinegar), traditional (but not cultured) buttermilk, and some types of cheese, mainly gouda, mozzarella, and cheddar.
Also from CNM, is this list of foods to eat to improve brain function including memory and concentration:
- Blueberries are high in polyphenols which are beneficial for gut bacteria and cognitive function.
- Broccoli neutralizes carcinogenic toxins in the body and helps lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, rocket) are rich in essential B vitamins, vitamins E and K, and an abundance of minerals that support brain health and improve memory and focus.
- Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain antioxidants and minerals including magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper to protect the brain from free radical damage. Sunflower seeds are also rich in thiamine (B1), an important vitamin for memory and cognition.
- Brazil nuts contain anti-inflammatory properties to protect the brain from damage. They are also high in selenium which is needed for brain signaling pathways.
*Nuts and seeds are best soaked overnight for at least 7 hours as it activates enzymes within the nuts and seeds to aid absorption and enable better digestion. Discard the water afterward.
- Food high in omega-3 fatty acids such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and small oily fish like sardines or mackerel. Omega-3 is essential for brain health as it enables brain cells to communicate better, reduces inflammation and aids cognitive development in children, and improved memory in adults.
- Bananas are rich in tryptophan which converts to serotonin in the body to help support healthy gut function and mood.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which has shown to cross the blood-brain barrier to help brain cells grow, reduce mental decline, and improve memory and mood.
- Whole grains including oats, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, and millet contain an abundance of B vitamins and other minerals to reduce inflammation in the brain and improve cognitive function.
- Beans and pulses (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans) are high in fiber, B vitamins, and omega-3. They provide a steady supply of fuel (glucose) to the brain which aids concentration and memory.
- Coconut oil, 20g per day, improves memory, and cognitive performance (even Alzheimers) due to medium chain triglycerides, fatty acids that fuel the brain with energy.
Tips to Improve Memory
Research has suggested that if you clench your right hand when learning a new fact (like someone’s name), later you can clench your left hand to remember the fact (name) Huh, I will have to try that.
If you suffer from sugar cravings, your body is probably already hoarding sugar. Start paying attention to the added sugar you are consuming and try to reduce it.
Cleansing of the neurons may take up to six months but if you are already noticing the early signs of memory loss, or speech impairment (type three diabetes) don’t hesitate to change your habits.