The health implications of Type 2 diabetes and obesity are well published and include an increased risk of heart disease, limb amputation, and even blindness. However, what isn’t as well documented is the fact that people with Type 2 diabetes and/or those who are obese have a greater risk of brain shrinking (atrophy). Brain atrophy is a loss of neurons and diminished connections between them, which is associated with dementia and aging. Brain atrophy can occur as we get older, however there is a greater risk of shrinking occurring in the obese and Type 2 diabetes populations.
Sugar has been highlighted as a contributing factor to brain atrophy. As a consequence, consuming a diet high in processed foods, sugary drinks, and white flour increases your risk of brain atrophy. The mechanisms that cause brain atrophy commonly occur in people with Type 2 diabetes. Inflammation is associated with the shrinking of certain parts of the brain, and Type 2 diabetes sufferers are more likely to be exposed to stronger states of inflammation. This is compounded by having consistently high blood sugar levels, which may be associated with neurodegeneration (the decreased function and death of neurons, which are responsible for sending information between cells). Being overweight or obese can also cause inflammation with some research suggesting that abdominal fat might increase inflammation.
Furthermore, abnormal clotting and a greater risk of a cardiovascular event have been identified in those with Type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar levels can lead to abnormal blood clotting function, increasing the likelihood of stroke and brain aging. Combined with inflammation, the risk of brain atrophy is amplified in people who have high blood sugar levels.
So, what can be done to avoid brain atrophy? The answer lies in reducing and maintaining normal blood sugar levels. This can be achieved in two ways: eating well and exercising. As we know, sugar is a major factor in the compromised cognitive function related to brain atrophy, therefore reducing sugar intake is a must. Start by replacing soft drinks for water, processed foods for fresh foods, and decreasing the consumption of sugary snacks such as biscuits, lollies, and chocolate. Exercise is the other crucial element in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Exercise increases the uptake of glucose (sugar) into the working muscles, and in the long term can increase your metabolism. A combination of aerobic and resistance training is the most effective way to reduce blood sugar levels. Resistance training directly targets the muscles, improves muscle function, and increases muscles’ ability to take glucose out of the blood stream.
The effects of eating a poor diet and not exercising are well known. However, this new research which demonstrates a decrease in brain function as a result of brain atrophy should serve as a catalyst for people to start making and maintaining positive lifestyle changes. We have all seen the mental function of older family members deteriorate with age. You may even have first-hand experience in the pain and distress that can cause for all involved, so reducing the risk of these issues occurring in ourselves should be a strong motivator to lead active and healthy lives.