Carbohydrates and Your Brain

Brain Health for Life, Beyond Pills, Politics, and Popular Diets

Excerpt from Chapter 8, The Complexities or Carbohydrates

An estimated 110,000 Americans die as a result of obesity each year and about one-third of all cancers are directly related to it. Obesity is also linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, but new research links obesity to brain degeneration as well. Obese persons are at increased risk for brain atrophy and dementia as they age.

Neurology scientists from the University of California in Los Angeles found that obese people have 8% less brain tissue than normal weight individuals, and their brains appear to have aged eight years prematurely. They had lost brain tissue in the frontal lobes, areas of the brain critical for planning and memory, and in the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), hippocampus (long-term memory), and basal ganglia (movement). Diabetes is a risk factor for dementia and these scientists’ studies suggest that higher glucose levels may be a risk factor for dementia even among persons without diabetes.

Researchers tracked 1,230 people between the ages of 70 and 89 and found that those who reported consuming the highest amount of carbohydrates were 1.9 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest intake. Incidence of mental decline was 1.5 times higher in people with the highest sugar intake compared to the lowest. Those who adhered to a diet high in “good fats” (nuts and healthy oils) were 42% less likely to experience cognitive impairment. People with a high intake of other forms of protein and fats (meat and fish) cut their risk by 21%.

Researchers concluded that people should eat a healthy balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to protect their brains, because once mild cognitive impairment starts, it is difficult to stop its progression.

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