Got a sweet tooth? If so, you may have a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s the latest word from Richard Jacoby, M.D., a peripheral nerve surgeon who notes a growing body of scientific research has tied sugar to dementia — in addition to the sweet stuff’s well-known association with diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
In a new book, “Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage, and Reclaim Good Health,” Dr. Jacoby explains that sugar damages a key nerve is tied to the brain’s memory center known as the hippocampus — as well as the sense of smell.
“The olfactory nerve, which controls our ability to smell, passes through a very tight tunnel to reach the nose, making it more susceptible to the damaging effects of sugar,” he tells Newsmax Health. “Part of the olfactory nerve nucleus is the hippocampus …and an early sign of Alzheimer’s is a lack of smell.”
In fact, docs sometimes detect Alzheimer’s using a “peanut butter test” — asking a patient if he or she can detect its strong odor when it is held up to the nose. Other clues: When an older woman wears a ton of perfume, not knowing how strong it is, or a man adds a lot of spicy tabasco sauce to food because he can’t taste or smell it.
Those connections led Dr. Jacoby — who practices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and specializes in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy — to investigate and ultimately conclude that damage to the olfactory nerve is the root cause of both loss of smell and memory.
“Incidentally, people with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s as those without,” he notes, adding that high blood sugar may be contributing factor to the memory-robbing condition that strikes five million Americans.
“Some researchers even believe Alzheimer’s is actually a form of diabetes — informally referred to as Type 3 diabetes — because the links are so strong. When brain cells become resistant to insulin, they don’t get enough fuel and they die” causing memory loss, confusion, and other typical symptoms of dementia.
Dr. Jacoby’s research and experiences with his own patients is adding to the growing weight of evidence suggesting that sugar and carbohydrates are bigger dietary evils than fat and cholesterol
Most Americans’ diets are loaded with hidden sugar, much of it in processed foods and beverages. Each year, the average American consumes 160 pounds of processed sugar, which is known by many names that typically end in “ose” (glucose, fructose, dextrose, galactose) or “itol” (sorbitol, polyglycitol).
A slate of research has linked Alzheimer’s to high cholesterol, obesity, inactivity, lack of mental stimulation, and even head injuries. But Dr. Jacoby believes those factors pale in comparison to a diet loaded with carbs and sugar.
“I would say sugar is the No. 1 risk factor,” he says. “It’s always been known that sugar promotes inflammation, so that’s not a new concept. But its pervasiveness [in the American diet] is enormous.”
Dr. Jacoby’s conclusions are based on his analysis of scientific research linking sugar to common diseases. The earliest studies found rich people often higher-than-average rates of health problems hundreds of years ago — when only the affluent could afford to eat sugary foods.
More recently, changes in food production have boosted Americans’ consumption of processed foods rich in carbs and sugar — including low-fat and fat-free foods promoted as heart-healthy options since the 1970s. Dr. Jacoby believes these trends are partly to blame for the rise in Alzheimer’s cases, which are projected to triple in coming decades, as the baby boomers grow older.
“This is absolutely what’s happened,” he says. “Who does all the research and funding? The food companies. If you take the fat out of food you have to put something back and what they put back is high fructose corn syrup…it makes food tastes food and it is addictive....
“So what I’m saying is that the carbohydrates we eat break down to a sugar that causes nerve compression, and the brain is obviously a nerve — a big one! What I did is I just put the dots together.”
The good news is you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by simply cutting back on sugar and limiting your carbs. Among the strategies Dr. Jacoby advises:
Avoid processed sugars. Read food labels fastidiously and limit your consumption of processed foods — including baked goods, snacks, frozen meals —which are loaded sugar. Keep in mind that natural sweeteners — honey, maple syrup, and those in fruits — are healthier options than table sugar, but all forms boost inflammation.
Watch those carbs. Carbohydrates in bread, pasta, and other foods break down into sugar in the body, so you should limit your intake. “If the food has carbs, divide the total number by four and that’s the sugar level,” he explains. “There’s 48 grams of carbs in a bagel — that’s [the equivalent of] 12 teaspoons of sugar. A 150-pound woman would have to jump on a trampoline for two hours to burn that off.”
Eat more whole foods. Fruit, veggies, and other whole foods — even those with high sugar content, such as carrots, berries, and bananas — are better options than anything that comes out of a bag, box, or can.
Choose anti-inflammatory items. Many foods have an anti-inflammatory properties and can boost brain health. Among them: nutrient-rich spinach, fish, garlic, dark berries, and turmeric. All are loaded with healthy compounds, including antioxidants that protect brain cells and improve blood flow, which may help reverse or combat age-related cognitive deficits.
The bottom line?
“What I like to tell my patients is: If it tastes good don’t eat it,” Dr. Jacoby jokes — pausing for effect before adding: “unless you read the label!”
He adds: “Sugar is sugar and it’s all bad. But there better sugars, yes. For instance glucose [in in fruit] is better than fructose [in sodas and sweet treats] — fructose is a killer.”
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