Thoughts on Better Aging

Insulin and Memory

June 20th, 2018

Learn about the role of insulin in memory and cognition

Memory loss—and in particular Alzheimer’s disease—is one of the most feared age-related illnesses in America. Experts predict that by 2050, there will be 15 million Alzheimer’s patients in America. Naturally, you want to take every possible opportunity to protect your memory and your brain health to reduce your risk of falling victim to this disease. As it turns out, protecting your overall health is very important for protecting your brain, because of the way in which numerous hormones—including insulin—affect brain function.

The Role of Insulin in the Brain

The cells in your body—including in your brain—need glucose for energy. But they can’t absorb glucose without help from insulin. Normally, when you eat food and your blood sugar rises, cells in your pancreas signal the release of insulin. Insulin then binds to cells and enables them to absorb sugar. Insulin also enables the liver to store excess sugar for later use.

Insulin receptors are found throughout the brain, especially in regions related to memory and cognition. Insulin helps to regulate the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for learning and memory. Insulin is also important for the maintenance of synapses and for blood vessel formation and function.

Unfortunately, as you age, insulin becomes less effective in the brain. Insulin transport across the blood-brain barrier will decrease, and brain cells will not respond as well to what insulin does make it through. This reduced insulin signaling has been identified as a major player in Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, elevated levels of peripheral insulin are associated with reduced brain atrophy and cognitive decline in early Alzheimer’s patients.

At any age, it is possible for insulin’s role in memory to be compromised by insulin resistance, a condition characterized by reduced responsiveness to insulin throughout the body. This condition is common among individuals who are obese, pre-diabetic, or have type 2 diabetes. Researchers have found that the higher an individual’s insulin resistance, the less blood sugar is used in areas of the brain related to memory. Without proper fuel, these regions of the brain simply can’t work as well as they should.

What You Can Do

Keeping insulin at optimal levels—and making sure the body can use insulin effectively—is extremely important, as overly high or low levels of insulin can affect cognition and memory. The first step should be to get tested to see if you may be pre-diabetic or diabetic. Regardless of what your test results reveal, you can take the following steps to help improve blood sugar control and combat insulin resistance:

  • Change your diet to a diabetic diet with foods that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt and higher in fiber
  • Get more exercise—in addition to helping with blood sugar control, exercise is also beneficial for brain health
  • Get better quality sleep—poor sleep can worsen insulin resistance, while healthy sleep supports memory
  • Reduce stress—the body’s response to stress is to pump more sugar into the bloodstream, which can eventually contribute to insulin resistance

In addition to controlling insulin, there are many other steps you can take to help support memory and cognition as you age. To learn more about our treatment options, contact us today.

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