Two recent studies paint a clear picture of issues surrounding age-related cognitive decline. An extensive scientific study of Gingko biloba concluded that the Chinese herb does nothing to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Another study linked higher blood pressure to increased brain atrophy, a condition linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s. The two studies could be used to argue that a healthy diet for lower blood pressure is the better way to preserve cognitive ability as we age.
Blood sugar and dementia
Many studies have linked the elevated blood sugar levels inherent with type 2 diabetes to brain atrophy and dementia. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, triggers abnormal blood coagulation and an inflammatory response that causes a decrease in cognitive function. The physical evidence includes accelerated brain atrophy, or shrinkage.
A new study suggests that even if your blood sugar test comes out normal, but on the high side of normal, this condition of borderline hyperglycemia isn’t good for your brain.
Higher range of normal still risky
Researchers at Australian National University in Canberra discovered their findings by tracking 249 people in their early 60s who had normal blood pressure at the beginning of the study. Participants had a blood glucose test and an MRI scan of the brain. Four years later they were tested again.
Brain shrinkage, or atrophy, was measured by comparing brain size in the two MRI scans. After adjusting results for age, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use and other factors, researchers found that higher blood sugar—even within the normal range—accounted for six to ten per cent of the brain shrinkage they observed.
The loss of brain volume primarily affected memory and cognitive skills in the participants. Lead researcher Dr. Nicolas Cherbuin suggested that long-term exposure to foods like sugary drinks and white flour were responsible for the problem.
Gingko biloba debunked
The more brain atrophy you have, the higher your risk for developing a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently Gingko biloba is not the answer. Another study published recently debunked the Chinese herb hyped as a wonder drug that boosts intelligence and improves memory, concluding it does nothing to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The five-year study involved 2,854 people in France aged 70 years or older who had already visited their doctors with concerns about their memory. Half the participants were given Ginkgo biloba extract and the other half were given a placebo designed to have a similar taste and appearance to the Ginkgo biloba pills. Researchers tested the participants’ memory, cognitive function and dementia status. People who took Ginkgo biloba twice a day were no less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those given the placebo.
The diabetes diet
The Gingko biloba study suggests taking the herb extract in the hope of escaping Alzheimer’s is a waste of money. A more sensible approach appears to be controlling blood sugar levels.
One of the best ways to control blood sugar levels is a so-called “diabetes diet,” which is simply involves eating a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes. A diabetes diet is defined as a healthy-eating plan, naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. The emphasis is on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which is actually the best eating plan for just about everyone.