Your Brain on Sugar

The brain uses a quarter of your body’s blood sugar in order to function well.  Current research is helping to understand the link between our metabolism and brain functioning both when we are healthy and when we develop disorders.

Three hundred years ago English doctor Thomas Willis noticed that people under prolonged stress, depression or “long sorrow” tended to develop diabetes.  Now we are learning that insulin regulation problems are directly associated with at least 29 different brain disorders, including Bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Down’s syndrome, and depression.

Glucose, or blood sugar, affects the brain’s memory, mood, and decision making ability.  In an article published in the December 2012 issue of The Scientist, author Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin (et al) describes several ways in which body problems and brain problems arise from a common problem of managing blood sugar.  Consequences of this shared problem include physical and mental energy, stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance.

As one example, people with Alzheimer’s disease have less insulin in their brain fluids and more insulin in their blood than healthy people, both of which impair the brain’s ability to metabolize sugar.  Correspondingly, treating Alzheimer’s patients with insulin (such as administering it in their sinuses) improves the patient’s memory.

Similarly, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as susceptible to developing dementia and seven times more likely to get Huntington’s disease than people with healthy metabolisms.  Impaired glucose tolerance affects 80% of Parkinson’s patients.  The linkage goes the other way as well.  People who are depressed have a 60% higher risk of developing diabetes. People with schizophrenia are two to four more times likely to develop metabolic disorders.  Also convincingly, people who are prescribed psychotropic medications that change the brain functioning often experience metabolic disturbances as a side effect, including high blood sugar, glucose intolerance, and type 2 diabetes.

All of this evidence indicates that research into the shared molecular pathways may result in treatments for both metabolic and psychiatric treatments.

More to the point, however, is to eat well.  Reduce sugars and other simple carbohydrates in your diet.  Your parents may have been right when they said that too many cookies make you crazy.



Brain Disorders Associated with Metabolic Disturbances

(cited from The Scientist issue Dec 2012 pg. 38)

 Psychiatric disorders:

Bipolar disorder

Major depressive disorder


Neurodegenerative diseases:

Alzheimer’s disease

Huntington’s disease

Parkinson’s disease

Vascular dementia

 Congenital neurodegerative disorders:

Alstrom syndrome

Ataxia-telagiectasia (Louis-Bar syndrome)

Bardet-Biedl syndrome

Down’s syndrome

Niemann-Pick disease

Prader-Willi syndrome

Werner syndrome

Wolfram syndrome

Woodhouse-Sakati syndrome

Other congenital disorders:

Familiar hyperinsulinism

Feigenbaum syndrome

Friedreich ataxia

Glut1 deficiency

Kearns-Sayre syndrome

Klinefelter syndrome

MELAS syndrome

Myotonic dystrophy 1


Spinocerebellar ataxia 3

Spinocerebellar ataxia 6

Thiamine-responsive megaloblastic anemia syndrome

Turner syndrome





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