Inflammation: The Enemy
Because we have yet to discover the cure for disorders of the mind such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, our best course of action, for now, is to take preventative measures to stop these diseases from happening in the first place. Scientists have taken great measures to identify a single cause for these illnesses, and the closest they’ve come is the establishment of a startling link between blood sugar levels and dementia. This has opened up a world of discovery among the causes of dementia, and what researchers and doctors have found is that it starts in the gut, along with many other disorders.
Patients who have elevations in blood sugar levels - even slightly so - have a higher risk for developing dementia, according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. What’s alarming about that is the fact that these levels aren’t necessarily dangerously high - they don’t even have to put patients at risk for developing diabetes - but they are, however, a direct result of dietary choices. Refined sugars, carbs, and other unhealthy foods all make it very difficult to control stable blood sugar levels.
An important thing to understand when it comes to talking about blood sugar levels is the role that inflammation plays. Many people think of inflammation as swelling or redness that results from an injury. While that’s a correct assessment, there are also other underlying causes of certain types of inflammation that are often unseen or undetected within the body. Inflammation is an integral part of the healing process, but when places deep inside our bodies stay inflamed beyond the point they’re supposed to, it puts us at risk for developing illnesses. In fact, research has shown that inflammation is one of the components leading to the development of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, autism, and even depression.
While some people are genetically predisposed to chronic inflammation, genes are only one part of the equation. Maintaining a stable blood sugar level is the single best thing that a person can do to keep chronic inflammation at bay. Elevated blood sugar acts as a catalyst for awakening inflammation within the bloodstream, because it’s the body’s defense mechanism for treating excess sugar, which is actually toxic to the body. From there, glycation takes place, the process by which sugar binds with proteins and certain types of fats to form molecules. The body doesn’t recognize these molecules and as a result, tries to fight them through inflammation.
Inflammation is so closely related to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease that it’s now being referred to by researches as “type-3 diabetes.” All of this relates back to the bacteria found within the gut, because that’s where all of the important inflammatory processes begin. Recent research has shown that dietary choices have the power to greatly reduce the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, specifically when the microbiota in the intestines are positively affected. Moreover, Chinese researchers have found that certain items can control blood sugar levels by targeting the microbiome specifically, without even directly affecting glucose and insulin.
Herbs such as ginseng and berberine, as well certain compounds found in wine, tea, coffee, and chocolate have helpful effects on gut bacteria, allowing them to be better absorbed by the body. In other words, crucial gut bacteria can perform better to successfully produce important chemicals, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), when certain dietary components help them to do their jobs.
The importance of BDNF, for one, is overwhelming. Research performed by Boston University found that BDNF can greatly reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s. GABA, too, is extremely important to the functionality of the nervous system. It acts as a messenger that keeps nerve activity in check, regulating brain waves and inhibiting transmissions. GABA, which is produced by gut bacteria, is crucial for handling stress. Thus, there is a direct link between the production of GABA in the gut and anxiety. It’s no wonder that anxiety commonly leads to gastrointestinal stress - everything is linked.
Having a disruption within your microbiome isn’t the only concern; many individuals today have a heightened level of permeability within their intestines, allowing low-grade inflammation to persist. Thus, we also have to make sure that we build up the walls of our intestines through the consumption of proper foods and supplements.
Not only is the health of your gut and its lining crucial to the prevention of disease, but it’s also necessary to keep our present state of mind health as well. In the upcoming chapter, we’ll discuss how a healthy microbiome can ward off depression, among other disorders and diseases.