Chances are pretty good that your doctor has never talked to you about impaired sugar metabolism in your brain — which is called brain glucose hypometabolism — its role in Alzheimer’s disease, how to know if it’s affecting you and how to bypass it to prevent or fight Alzheimer’s. All are possible.
While I could give you a list of 6 surprising foods that spike that your blood sugar, and I will, how meaningful is that if you don’t know why it matters for your memory? My goal is to always provide the “why” because there’s so much we can do to protect or repair the brain, but what you mostly get “out there” is sound bites without substance and most doctors just diagnose and prescribe.
Like everything else about Alzheimer’s, brain glucose hypometabolism is complicated. But I’m going to give you the CliffsNotes to help you understand it and then call your attention to a few foods that matter.
What you need to know about brain glucose hypometabolism:
1. First, you could call it brain sugar metabolism; glucose is the technical word. The brain uses sugar for energy. It gets the sugar from the foods you eat, primarily carbohydrates. When the process works properly, there are no problems.
2. Brain hypometabolism is a decrease in glucose consumption by the brain. Basically, the brain has plenty of glucose but is unable to use it for energy.
3. Glucose flows freely into the brain via various transporters. When the ability of the brain to use glucose for energy is impaired, as it is in most Alzheimer’s patients long before they have symptoms, the brain can’t function properly. This is called brain glucose hypometabolism.
4. Four of the most important factors that influence brain glucose hypometabolism are:
- Insulin Resistance
5. Hypometabolism can go on for decades before you have memory problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline because the symptoms don’t appear until the glucose processing in the brain has slowed by 15% to 25% — which takes a long time.
6. People who carry the ApoE4 gene, the gene most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, have brain glucose hypometabolism as early as their 20s or 30s. There are no symptoms until many years later.
7. If nothing is done to alleviate the problem, it gets worse, but you don’t know it’s happening and neither does your doctor because the testing isn’t standard and Alzheimer’s prevention isn’t either. In most cases, it’s safe to assume brain glucose hypometabolism is playing a role in cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, the standard medication for Alzheimer’s is prescribed, which doesn’t address hypometabolism at all. Brain glucose hypometabolism is just one of many contributors to Alzheimer’s.
8. It can be detected and measured with an FDG-PET scan. Another important way to measure and manage is to use the results of glucose and insulin tests along with the HOMA-IR calculation – knowing those numbers can help you keep insulin and glucose in optimal ranges which is very important in this overall picture.
What you can do about hypometabolism:
Your diet has a major impact on hypometabolism for better or worse depending on what you’re eating. Most people are eating a lot of carbohydrates, flooding the brain and body with too much glucose making hypometabolism worse.
The most effective thing you can do to lessen hypometabolism is to lower your carbohydrate intake to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels low — and stable. Many people also will need to switch their brain fuel from glucose to ketones.
You can get started by decreasing or eliminating the carbohydrate-rich foods that metabolize quickly in the body into glucose and spike blood sugar, especially the sugary kind like desserts.
But foods don’t have to be sweet to substantially increase blood sugar.
Here are 6 foods that may surprise you when it comes to spiking your blood sugar:
- Instant oats. The more processed the oats, the more likely they are to spike your blood sugar. Skip the instant oats. While rolled oats are better, they still may increase blood sugar quite a bit. Even steel-cut, which are the best health-wise, can elevate glucose higher in some people than others because they contain a lot of carbs and most people add honey, sugar or brown sugar, and fruit to their oats. The fiber content in whole and steel-cut oats helps blunt the rise in blood sugar, but adding sugar to the oats weakens the effect. If you eat oats, resist adding sugar and high-glycemic fruits like bananas. Instead, use cinnamon, nuts and a small number of berries.
- Fruit juice. While most of us have been influenced by advertising that tells us the health benefits of fruit juice and that it’s just as healthy as a piece of fruit, the nutritional info tells another story. For instance, a medium-size orange gives you fiber and vitamins and has about 12 grams of sugar. Most fruit juices have between 27 and 38 grams of sugar per serving, basically making them equivalent to a soda, without fiber to reduce the glucose spike.
- Whole wheat bread and pasta. Whole wheat versions of both of these foods are full of processed carbs, which rapidly raise your blood sugar. Take a look at the ingredients list for whole wheat bread to better understand why this is not a good choice for an anti-Alzheimer’s diet, whether the Mediterranean or KetoFlex 12/3.
- White and brown rice. You may have heard that brown rice is better for you, but while it has more fiber than white rice and may not raise your blood sugar as much as white rice, any type of rice can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels quite a bit. A better veggie alternative is cauliflower rice.
- Bagels. Would you be surprised to know that bagels are worse than donuts? In fact, a bagel has a greater mass of carbohydrates, leading to a higher release of glucose into the bloodstream. The point here is that it’s not just sugary foods like donuts that cause blood sugar spikes, so skip the donuts AND the bagels.
- White potatoes. The glycemic load of white potatoes is very high. A baked white potato can raise blood sugar even more than a glazed donut.
These foods are generally considered healthy. Unfortunately, just because a food is considered healthy, doesn’t mean its repeated physiological impact is healthy.
A proactive approach to preventing or fighting Alzheimer’s includes adjusting your food choices and lifestyle habits from those that interfere with brain energy to those that help it. You just have to know what they are and how to make the adjustments, and that’s what the ReCODE protocol is all about.
Angela Chapman is a Bredesen ReCODE Practitioner, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and Functional Health Educator. If you’re searching for practical ways to protect your brain health and avoid Alzheimer’s disease, her Sunday email is a great resource for you.