Heard the phrase "type 3 diabetes" yet? You'll surely be hearing it more. For several years now, researchers have been calling Alzheimer's disease a brain form of diabetes as they explore links between the diseases. Increasingly now, they're fingering a poor diet as an influential culprit.
To understand the complicated concept of type 3 diabetes, it helps to understand the key role of insulin in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Mark Bittman provides a great, clear explanation in his New York Times op-ed piece about the September 2012 UK New Scientist cover story that maps out the current research making this important diet-insulin-Alzheimer's link.
Basically, in Alzheimer's, insulin becomes ineffective in the brain, starving brain cells and causing cognitive damage. It's also implicated in the formation of the telltale plaques in the brain.
"What’s new is the thought that while diabetes doesn’t 'cause' Alzheimer’s, they have the same root: an over consumption of those 'foods' that mess with insulin’s many roles," Bittman writes. (Also likely factors: Differing genetic susceptibility and various environmental triggers.)(See Caring.com food and nutrition editor Beth Reardon's related explanations of inflammation.)
Not only sugar and simple carbs seem to be at fault. There's growing interest in nitrites/nitrosamines, used rampantly in processed foods, cured meats, and also in large-scale farming, says one of the lead researchers in this area, Suzanne DeLaMonte of Brown University. They have a cumulative effect and are also connected to cancer.
The New Scientist cover image — a chocolate brain with a huge piece missing — "is creepy," Bittman notes. "But for the record: chocolate is not the enemy," he adds, alluding to the fairly good dietary rep of dark chocolate. The real problem, he says, is the standard American diet (or "SAD," he says, pitch-perfect.) Maybe a greasy bacon-burger-with-fries-on-top brain would have made a more accurate graphic. Or a deep-fried turkey brain. Or a Paula Deen fried butter ball brain.
It's enough to make you want to start an anti-diabetes diet right this minute. Which wouldn't be a minute too late.