Getting older doesn’t have to mean cognitive decline. Protect your memory and keep your mind sharp with these strategies for blood sugar regulation.
Do you ever forget people’s names? Enter a room and forget why you went there? Forget a word mid-sentence? As we get older, these types of “senior moments” happen more often. Many of the people I evaluate worry that these slips mean they are getting Alzheimer’s disease. In most cases, they aren’t. They’re just part of normal, age-related memory decline. Starting at about age 30, our ability to process and remember information declines with age.
But though these cognitive changes are common, cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research has identified specific brain alterations that underlie this kind of age-related cognitive decline. And the good news is that many of these brain changes can be prevented with healthy lifestyle practices. A key finding: Elevated blood sugar contributes to cognitive decline.
THE DETAILS: It has long been known that problems with short-term memory are related to age-related decreases in blood flow in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Recently, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center discovered that decreased blood flow to the hippocampus is related to elevated blood sugar levels. Scott Small, MD, the lead investigator, said the effects can be seen even when levels of blood sugar, or glucose, are only moderately elevated. This finding may help explain normal age-related cognitive decline, since our body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels worsens with age.
Your brain’s primary fuel is glucose. If your blood sugar level drops too low, you’ll have trouble paying attention, learning, and remembering information. But if your sugar level is consistently too high, the body pumps out excess insulin, which causes inflammation and oxidative stress that prematurely age your brain. So, a cup of coffee with sugar and a bagel can be just the thing to get you going in the morning: It quickly gets glucose into your brain and enhance your cognitive functioning. But over the long term, consuming a large volume of sugar—and foods that are quickly converted by your body into sugar—will prematurely age your brain.
Next: 6 Ways to Prevent Cognitive Decline