Lots of Sugar is Not So Sweet After All

College of DuPage Nursing student Maria Serna-Sanchez shared that a  form of sugar, glucose, is the most essential source of energy for our body and brain function, and in fact, is the main source of energy and without it, we cannot function. The brain requires glucose to synthesize neurotransmitters and has an important role in pathway formation and signaling. The supply of glucose to the brain can be supplemented during times of strenuous physical activity and prolonged starvation.[1] However, our body requires glucose to function, and glucose metabolism and management are vital to body and brain function.

Diabetes is in part, complicated by excess glucose consumption. Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated glucose levels. Manifestations of diabetes include cardiovascular, kidney and nervous system complications if not managed properly or controlled. Currently, the World Health Organization[2] reports that an estimated 422 million adults have diabetes. Diabetes exists as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and results when the pancreas is not able to produce

insulin, thus disabling the body from regulating glucose levels in the blood. Type 2 diabetes, however, is largely preventable and associated with poor nutrition and lifestyle choices, especially overweight and obesity.[3] Type 2 is most common among adults, however, it is increasingly more common among youth, requiring nutrition and weight management become a priority early in life.

As important as the role of glucose is in the function of the brain, studies have found that elevated glucose levels may negatively impact brain function. Scott Edwards discusses Vera Novak’s work regarding the effects of high sugar levels on the brain in an article written for the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute. According to research performed by Vera Novak, high glucose consumption affects brain function and neuron networks, which links all the brain regions and brain matter; high glucose levels contribute to the brain shrinking. Small vessel disease may occur, restricting blood flow and contributing to cognitive dysfunction. In patients with diabetes and long-term conditions, the risks are heightened.[1]

Diabetes is an ongoing health problem and a risk factor for several serious health conditions, and research suggests there is a relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The abnormal glucose metabolism characteristic of diabetes may lead to amyloid plaques and tau tangles found in Alzheimer’s.[2]

Uncontrolled and excess glucose levels accelerate brain aging and may initiate a progression of brain dysfunction that cannot be reversed. The effects of excessive sugar consumption, especially unhealthy forms of sugar, may be incredibly harmful to our brain and body. It is especially important to recognize the amount and quality of sugar consumed and make deliberate decisions about the types of foods that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

[1] Edwards, S. (n.d.). Sugar and the brain. On the Brain. Retrieved from
http://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/
brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/sugar-and-brain

[2] Binder, L. I., Guillozet-Bongarrts, A. L., Garcia Sierra, F., & Berry, R. W.
(2005). Tau, tangles, and Alzheimer’s disease. Biochimica Et Biophysica
Acta (BBA) – Molecular Basis of Disease, 1739(2-3), 216-223.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadis.2004.08.014

[1] Mergenthaler P, Lindauer U, Dienel GA, Meisel A. Sugar for the brain: the role
of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends
Neurosci. 2013;36(10):587-97. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2013.07.001.

[2] Global report on diabetes. (2016). Retrieved from the World Health Organization

website: http://www.who.int/en

[3] Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved from World Health Organization website:

http://www.who.int/diabetes/en/

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