Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Diet, Dementia, and Insulin

New Scientist has a fascinating article on recent research showing that Alzheimer's disease is connected to insulin which is connected to a high fat/sugar diet. Here's the lede:
Suzanne De La Monte's rats were disoriented and confused. Navigating their way around a circular water maze - a common memory test for rodents - they quickly forgot where they were, and couldn't figure out how to locate the hidden, submerged safety platform. Instead, they splashed around aimlessly. "They were demented. They couldn't learn or remember," says de la Monte, a neuropathologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

A closer look at her rats' brains uncovered devastating damage. Areas associated with memory were studded with bright pink plaques, like rocks in a climbing wall, while many neurons, full to bursting point with a toxic protein, were collapsing and crumbling. As they disintegrated, they lost their shape and their connections with other neurons, teetering on the brink of death.

Such changes are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, and yet they arose in surprising circumstances. De la Monte had interfered with the way the rats' brains respond to insulin. The hormone is most famous for controlling blood sugar levels, but it also plays a key role in brain signalling. When de la Monte disrupted its path to the rats' neurons, the result was dementia.

Poor sensitivity to insulin is typically associated with type 2 diabetes, in which liver, fat and muscle cells fail to respond to the hormone. But results such as de la Monte's have led some researchers to wonder whether Alzheimer's may sometimes be another version of diabetes - one that hits the brain. Some have even renamed it "type 3 diabetes".

If they are right - and a growing body of evidence suggests they might be - the implications are deeply troubling. Since calorific foods are known to impair our body's response to insulin, we may be unwittingly poisoning our brains every time we chow down on burgers and fries. People with type 2 diabetes, who have already developed insulin resistance, may be particularly at risk. "The epidemic of type 2 diabetes, if it continues on its current trajectory, is likely to be followed by an epidemic of dementia," says Ewan McNay of the University at Albany in New York. "That's going to be a huge challenge to the medical and care systems."

All of which highlights the importance of eating healthier foods and taking exercise to reduce your risk of dementia. It may even be possible to reverse - or at least decelerate - some of the cognitive decline in people who already have Alzheimer's, by targeting the underlying insulin resistance. If so, that would suggest new treatments for the disease, which has so far evaded any attempt to treat it.
There's much more at the link. The story suggests dietary supplements that, if this research is correct, can help stave off or decelerate dementia.


Whenever someone in politics calls someone else "extreme" or "extremist" it's safe to assume that all they mean is that the person to whom they are referring disagrees with them. The word has, like the word "racist," been used so much it has lost its meaning and its punch.

The latest target to be vilified by the term is Paul Ryan, the GOP candidate for vice-president. Ryan, and others for that matter, have been labelled "extreme" because they hold the following views:
  • They believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
  • They believe that the second amendment grants the right to own and carry a firearm.
  • They believe that abortion kills an innocent life and should be reserved for the most dire of circumstances.
  • They believe that a nation should control its borders and that people who are here illegally should not be granted the same rights as are granted to citizens.
  • They believe that terrorists should be treated as threats to society and to innocent people and that taxpayers should not be required to subsidize a comfortable existence for them in prison.
  • They believe that we can't continue to spend money we don't have and that if we're going to save entitlements from going bankrupt we have to fundamentally change the way we do them.
If you believe any of these things then you, too, are an "extremist" and as such your views deserve to be dismissed, disregarded, and even suppressed by those who deem you to be so odious as to hold opinions as reprehensible as these.

Ironically, those who hold the opposite views are never called extremists. For example, those who want to change two thousand years of tradition by allowing gays to marry, those who wish to ban firearms in the hands of private citizens, those who would extend "abortion" even to living infants, those who advocate open borders and unrestricted immigration, and those who believe that we can continue to borrow and spend and hang an anchor of debt around the necks of our children are never called extremists.

Yet if anything in our current political landscape is extreme those positions surely are.