In previous articles we have written extensively about the dangers to our health and wellbeing of drinking too many sugary drinks and having too much sugar in general in your diet. However, for the first time, scientists have found a link between high levels of glucose in the brain and the symptoms of Alzheimers disease.
Dr Madhav Thambisetty, at the National Institute of Aging in the US looked at brain tissue samples from autopsies collected by the Baltimore Longitudinal study on Aging, part of a research project which tracks the health conditions of people over several decades.
Dr Thambisetty and his colleagues focused on brain areas that are vulnerable to plaques and tangles – the frontal and temporal cortex – highly involved in memory and language.
They also looked at areas which resist these features, such as the cerebellum which deals with movement, muscles and muscular activity.
They found that the people with more severe Alzheimer’s had problems breaking down the glucose to produce energy – a process known as glycolysis.
A slower rate of glycolysis and higher brain glucose levels was associated with more severe plaques and tangles in the brains of people with the disease.
Worse brain glycolysis was also related to Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory problems.
Richard J Hodes of the NIA said: “for some time, researchers have thought about the possible links between how the brain processes glucose and Alzheimer’s. Research such as this involves new thinking about how to investigate these connections in the intensifying search for better and more effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.’
The researchers also found that people with Alzheimer’s had lower levels of enzymes used to break down glucose, and lower levels of a protein called GLUT-3 that transports glucose in brain cells – and the lower the levels of GLUT-3 the worse the plaques and tangles were.
In addition, they found that people with higher blood sugar levels in the years before they died were linked to greater levels of glucose in the brain when they died.
Dr Thambisetty said: ‘These findings point to a novel mechanism that could be targeted in the development of new treatments to help the brain overcome glycolysis defects in Alzheimer’s disease.”