High blood sugar levels contribute to the onset of prediabetes and diabetes.
These conditions, in turn, increase the risk of various health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and bone or joint problems. Now, a new study adds new dangers to this list: cognitive decline and dementia.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the use of glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood, whose function is to act as a source of energy or fuel for the body.
To distribute glucose between cells, and thus provide them with energy, our body uses a hormone called insulin, produced by the pancreas. When this is not enough or does not work properly, it gives rise to the different types of diabetes:
- Diabetes type 1: is an autoimmune disease, which occurs because the immune system mistakenly attacks and eliminates the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Its exact cause is still unknown, although it is believed that genes, environmental factors and the intervention of some virus could trigger this response.
- Type 2 diabetes: represents more than 90% of diabetes cases. In this type the body is not able to use insulin properly.
- prediabetes: Blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be type 2 diabetes. However, different research has estimated that without any intervention, this condition can turn into type 2 diabetes after about 10 years.
- Gestational diabetes: appears in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. When this occurs, the baby is at increased risk for health complications. Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery, it can increase the mother’s or child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
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Consequences of prediabetes and diabetes
When blood glucose levels are high, it also increases the risk of suffering from other health problems, such as:
- High cholesterol.
- Nerve damage.
- Eye damage, including loss of vision.
- Heart disease.
- fatty liver disease
- Renal disease.
- Arterial hypertension.
A recent investigation, published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolismsuggests that high blood sugar levels (not only diabetes, but also prediabetes) may increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
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In contrast, the study authors, researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, noted that lower blood sugar levels are associated with better brain health.
While diagnosed diabetes has long been known to be, for a number of complex reasons not yet fully understood, a condition linked to poorer brain health in later life, experts say what was relevant about this study was that it learned that any sustained rise in blood sugar levels (as is the case with prediabetes) can be dangerous to brain health.
It is even believed that people with prediabetes may be at higher long-term risk than those diagnosed with diabetes, because they have blood sugar levels that are problematic but are not controlled or receive appropriate therapeutic care.
But why does this phenomenon occur? The authors believe that elevated blood glucose levels, even those that are episodic and not chronic, cause sugar metabolites to accumulate in brain cells, resulting in systemic inflammation and damage to cell membranes.
Over time, that ongoing low-grade inflammation can lead to a variety of consequences, including accelerating the biological aging process and worsening age-related diseases, including vascular conditions.
What to do to control blood sugar levels
This research provides new evidence on the importance of monitoring blood sugar levels in order to intervene at an early stage and prevent damage to the brain, which can sometimes be irreversible. To control blood sugar levels, experts recommend:
keep a healthy weight
Being overweight, especially when it is distributed in the abdominal area, increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Specialists advise losing between 5 and 10% of overweight, not regaining it and maintaining it in the long term. This can also provide protection against other types of health problems.
have a healthy diet
Eating the right foods is helpful in controlling your blood glucose level and helping you lose excess weight. Among the best options are:
- Fruits and vegetables: citrus fruits, berries, apples, pineapples, grapes, kiwis, green leafy vegetables, such as chard, spinach, broccoli or kale and other non-starchy options.
- Fiber: herbs and spices, such as cilantro or oregano, legumes, such as lentils, peas, peanuts, and beans, or fruits and grains.
- healthy fats: fish, such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and trout, flaxseed or flaxseed oil, nuts, chia seeds, canola, olive, or soybean oils, and avocado.
- infusions: cinnamon, turmeric, fenugreek, hibiscus, or ginger.
- Added sugars (which are usually present in processed foods).
- Refined products, such as flour or white rice.
- Soft drinks, sodas or industrial juices.
- Red meat, especially processed meat, and sausages.
In the same way that some foods are beneficial to prevent diabetes, others can favor its appearance or worsen it. Limit or eliminate from the diet:
Physical activity fulfills a double function to prevent type 2 diabetes, since it increases the consumption of glucose by the body, and stimulates muscle fibers, favoring the transport of sugar into the cells. Although all types of movement are shown to be positive when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, the greatest benefits are seen in activities of moderate intensity.
To avoid the use of tobacco
Nicotine and certain chemicals found in cigarettes damage cells, cause inflammation, affect insulin response, and increase the risk of increased abdominal fat, all risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Sources consulted: American Diabetes Association, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.