We all know that sweets and fast food are bad for our health. They rot our teeth, add inches everywhere we don’t want them, clog our arteries, and put stress on our heart, but do they also affect our brain health? Current research is suggesting that yes, eating an unhealthy diet can, in fact, cause problems for our mental health.
Many of us are aware of the increasing rate of type II diabetes in the U.S. Type II, unlike type I, is caused by insulin resistance. Basically insulin is responsible for getting glucose into cells to be used for energy. When your body becomes resistant to insulin the glucose is not properly transported. Because the glucose is not reaching the cells your body thinks it still needs that energy so your liver produces even more glucose into your blood. Again the glucose cannot be taken anywhere so it builds up in the blood, a condition called hyperglycemia. This condition can be managed relatively easily with medication. What was not known about insulin resistance until just recently was that it can also occur in the brain.
Glucose is the primary form of energy used by the brain. Researchers are finding that in Alzheimer’s disease there is reduced use of glucose in parts of the brain. If the brain cells aren’t using as much energy then they are not working as well as they should be. It is believed that brain cells are also capable of developing insulin resistance so glucose is not properly transported to the cells that need it to function correctly. This is what is believed to be causing the progressive memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.
If insulin resistance is such a large part of two very common problems what causes it to happen and how can it be avoided? Insulin receptors can become less sensitive to insulin levels if insulin levels are chronically high. Since cells only need as much glucose as they need to produce energy the insulin receptors need to become less sensitive if there is regularly more insulin present than the cells need to import glucose. This occurs when a diet is full of unnecessary sugars and fats that are most often present in sweets, sodas, and fast food. If this life style is maintained overtime the insulin receptors can become resistant to insulin and that can lead to type II diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.
I am not trying to say that if you indulge in a Big Mac or a can of your favorite soda from time to time you are going to develop diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. Moderation is always key and an unhealthy diet does not guarantee that you will develop one of these conditions. Awareness of how your food choices will affect you now, tomorrow, and 20 years down the road is important and knowing the cause of diseases like these can help in future treatment options as well as prevention.