Pinpointing the cause or causes of Alzheimer’s disease has been confounding medical researchers for over one hundred years. But now, says Mark Bittman of The New York Times, a convincing argument can be made that Alzheimer’s is in effect Type 3 Diabetes. Bittman says this idea has been around since 2005, but has been given new credence thanks to the New Scientist cover story, “Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain.”
The idea is so simple, and that’s why it makes so much sense: we are what we eat. When we eat junk, our bodies become junk. This is the kind of common sense wisdom that is ignored and drowned out by fast-food marketing and our American lifestyle of convenience and excess. I myself could easily pretend to be one of those smug New Yorkers who hasn’t succumbed to the fatty trappings of fast food, but I know that I’m not in the clear just because I’ve stopped eating at McDonald’s. I try to eat vegetables and stay away from truly horrible foods, but my diet could use tons of improvement, something I think about more and more as I get older and realize that what I put in my body really not only affects my health but in fact creates whatever condition I’m in. And it goes without saying that I feel a strong imperative to teach my daughter how to instinctively take good care of herself. This issue is especially pressing to me because I was raised in a family of comfort eaters, and my own mother – who has Type 2 Diabetes – once told me, “If I knew then what I know now, I’d still cook the same stuff, just with more broccoli.”
Bittman explains how the Diabetes/Alzhemier’s theory works like this:
…when the cells in your brain become insulin-resistant, you start to lose memory and become disoriented. You even might lose aspects of your personality.
In short, it appears, you develop Alzheimer’s.
A neuropathologist named Alois Alzheimer noticed, over a century ago, that an odd form of protein was taking the place of normal brain cells. How those beta amyloid plaques (as they’re called) get there has been a mystery. What’s becoming clear, however, is that a lack of insulin — or insulin resistance — not only impairs cognition but seems to be implicated in the formation of those plaques.
Later, he says:
Let’s connect the dots: We know that the American diet is a fast track not only to obesity but to Type 2 diabetes and other preventable, non-communicable diseases, which now account formore deaths worldwide than all other causes combined.
We also already know that people with diabetes are at least twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s, and that obesity alone increases the risk of impaired brain function.
What’s new is the thought that while diabetes doesn’t “cause” Alzheimer’s, they have the same root: an over consumption of those “foods” that mess with insulin’s many roles.
So the foods you want to avoid are sugary ones and those with nitrates, Bittman says. (Your standard carnival fare: hot dogs and cotton candy. In other words, stuff kids love.) If you want to be scared into changing your diet, Bittman says, “More than 115 million new cases of Alzheimer’s are projected around the world in the next 40 years.” OMG. None of us will know who we are! Bittman argues, “Adopting a sane diet, a diet contrary to the standard American diet (which I like to refer to as SAD), would appear to give you a far better shot at avoiding diabetes in all of its forms, along with its dreaded complications.” Maybe that soda ban wasn’t such a bad idea after all?
I’m trying to make the kinds of changes Bittman advocates, one meal at a time. I never learned how to cook growing up, so eating at home is a challenge for me, let alone making something more complicated than a sandwich. But last night I made pasta (which isn’t that great for you but is delicious, and I used tomato sauce with lots of pesto – green stuff!) and BRUSSELS SPROUTS. And my daughter loved it. If we keep adding more green stuff to our diet, I should be able to remember her childhood as clear as my Crystal Stick deodorant by the time I’m an old woman.