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Alzheimer's: Is It Diabetes of the Brain?

Could what we eat be killing our brains? Or, to put it another way, could Alzheimer's really be Type 3 diabetes?

The theory is that the factors in our diet and the environment that's causing the Type 2 diabetes epidemic is also playing a role in the increasing rate of Alzheimer's -- resulting in a third form of diabetes, Type 3 brain diabetes.

It's an intriguing -- some might say controversial -- theory. In any case, it's certainly one more reason to put down that soda and cut back on the bacon cheeseburgers.

What exactly is diabetes? It's a disorder in which the body can't use insulin properly to take up sugar in the blood for energy. The result is a dangerous build-up of sugar, which can damage other organs.

Right now there are two recognized types of diabetes -- Type 1, which you're born with, and Type 2, which develops later, mostly because of bad eating habits, particularly junk food and sugary beverages, and obesity. No surprise -- the vast majority of diabetes in this country is Type 2.

The thinking behind Type 3 goes like this: The brain, like the rest of the body, needs insulin to help provide its cells with energy. But with Alzheimer's, the insulin apparently is blocked from helping the brain. The result is that brain cells literally starve to death.

Or, as Suzanne De La Monte, M.D., a neuropathologist at Brown University, first explained in 2005 after examining Alzheimer's patients' brains, "Insulin disappears early and dramatically in Alzheimer's disease. In the most advanced stage of Alzheimer's, insulin receptors were nearly 80 percent lower than in a normal brain."

Since then, other researchers have also studied this brain-insulin interaction, said food and health writer  Mark Bittman in a recent New York Times column. Ditto for a cover story in New Scientist bluntly titled, "Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain."

Plus, studies have found that those with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's, as Bittman pointed out. And while diabetes may not  "cause" Alzheimer's, the two diseases "have the same root: an over-consumption of those foods that mess with insulin's many roles," he wrote.

Obviously, more research is needed. But for now, he added, "put down that soda!" A healthier diet will help you avoid the deadly complications of diabetes -- no matter what type it's called.

In other health news:

Gut bacteria different in people with diabetes. The latest research in the role of gut bacteria and disease, reports the Los Angeles Times, is a study in Nature that finds differences between the bacteria growing in the guts of people who have diabetes and those who don't.

Feeling stressed out linked to heart disease risk. Reuters reports that people who report feeling high levels of stress in their daily lives are more likely to develop heart disease than those who don't experience as much stress, according to a new review of earlier studies.

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