Can Sugar Dissolve Your Memory?

Recent studies conclude that high glucose levels can negatively affect memory and impair cognition. In fact, individuals with diabetes, a condition that causes elevated high blood sugar levels, are known to have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia.  It seems that the brain in type II diabetes, just like the body, has difficulty utilizing sugar for energy and this can lead to slower processing when it comes to memory retrieval.  Another way that high blood sugar can contribute to damaging the brain is contributing to hardening of the arteries, thereby leading to decrease blood flow to key areas of the brain.  So is sugar all bad?  Of course not. We need sugar or glucose for energy.

What is Glucose?

Glucose is the primary metabolic fuel in the body. It is formed when carbohydrates are broken down in the body. Insulin (created by your pancreas) helps move the glucose from your blood into the cells where it is metabolized to create energy.  An imbalance of blood sugar and insulin can cause hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia or diabetes.

What is Hyperglycemia? – Too much blood sugar

Hyperglycemia occurs when the body loses the ability to regulate blood sugar, and the glucose in the blood becomes too high.  If the sugar in the blood remains high for an extended period of time then that person can develop diabetes.  There are two ways to measure glucose in the blood. One way is after fasting for a period of eight hours or more and the other way is measuring the blood sugar after eating, referred to as postprandial blood sugar. More often than not, your doctor will measure your fasting blood sugar levels.

What is Hypoglycemia?- Not enough blood sugar

Hypoglycemia refers to the condition when there is not enough sugar in the blood to maintain normal cellular function.  The good news is that the body has several mechanisms in place to keep the blood glucose within normal range so we can continue to function normally during times of high stress.  There are times, however, when these mechanisms are not enough or are compromised. This can occur if there is a prolonged period of fasting, if you are taking certain medications such as insulin or secondary to illness.  Symptoms of hypoglycemia include confusion, foggy thinking, angry outbursts, profuse sweating, feelings of anxiety, shaky arms and legs and fatigue. In extreme cases individuals can lose consciousness because the brain is being deprived of its primary fuel source.

Healthy ways to include sugar in your diet

The following are healthy ways to ensure that your body has enough glucose to keep it functioning at peak efficiency. But talk to your doctor first to see if these are right for your individual case:

Fruits can provide natural forms of sugar that also contain nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber and are rich in antioxidants.  Fruits like blueberries, blackberries and purple grapes have been shown to protect the brain from the damage caused by aging.

If you need a touch of sweet, avoid refined sugars that are stripped of any nutrients and opt instead for unfiltered honey or a touch of agave syrup.  These still contain higher amounts of sugar, so moderation is the key.  An idea for dessert: Combine lemon zest, a little agave syrup, water and a touch of vanilla.  Warm in saucepan until smooth.  Pure over your favorite berries.  Want it a little creamier? Add some Greek yogurt.

Remember, the body’s need for glucose can be obtained from complex carbohydrates and whole grain products that are high in fiber.  These foods slowly release glucose into the blood so the body can use it at its own pace, thus avoiding blood sugar swings.  Foods that fall into this category are whole grain pasta, quinoa, beans and whole grain bread.  Other foods to consider are sweet potatoes and butternut squash.  Try this simple recipe: bake or microwave a small to medium size sweet potato, cut open, mash the contents, pour a little honey, sprinkle a little cinnamon, top with a little Greek yogurt and enjoy.

Avoid all products that contain high fructose corn syrup.  This is a concentrated form of sugar that has been linked to fatty liver disease, obesity and also implicated in accelerating memory impairment.  If possible, avoid artificial sweeteners, since they have been linked to an increased risk of obesity.


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