New evidence shows being out of shape and consuming a poor diet can take a toxic toll on the brain, according to a Tulane University study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
"Typically in America, what happens is that you become grossly overweight," says Dr. David Busija, chair of pharmacology at Tulane University School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study. "You become insulin-resistant, and then if that's not reversed, you become diabetic."
Busija found that the lining of the blood vessels that nourishes brain cells can't deliver oxygen-rich blood efficiently when two things are present: high blood sugar and the protein associated with brain plaques in people with Alzheimer's. In this situation, the cells begin to die.
"It's a little bit of starvation over a long period of time," Busija says. "And that really fits the profile if you look at the time course of Alzheimer's. It takes a long time to develop, except in people that have a genetic propensity towards Alzheimer's."
What's frightening, Busija says, is that once a person goes from insulin resistant diabetes to type 2 diabetes, even when his or her blood sugar levels are controlled, the beta amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's disease is still toxic to cells lining blood vessels. It's as if the cells have a memory of sorts.
"I think the most important thing is to keep blood glucose levels within the normal range," Busija says. "We need to change our behavior in order for us to be healthier."
As you make your New Year's resolutions, rethink consuming too many desserts, breads and starchy foods or being a couch potato.
Busija says diet, exercise, weight loss and normal blood sugar levels are the best ways to protect the brain.
Researchers also are working on special types of antioxidants to help prevent this toxic reaction.
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports, including "Weight Loss Wednesday" and "Wrinkle Free Friday" stories, weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and anytime on wwltv.com.