Most of us have an ambition of living to a ripe old age. At the same time, many of fear the loss of our mental faculties as we age. For at least some of us, the spectre of dementia looms large in our minds. One potential modifiable risk factor for dementia concerns derangement in blood sugar regulation. Diabetics are noted to be at increased risk of dementia, at least in part as a result of ‘vascular dementia’ (dementia caused by disease of vessels supplying blood to the brain).
Type 2 diabetics have normally secreted a lot of insulin in their lives, and a potential consequences of this is the accumulation of fat around the midriff (sometimes referred to as ‘abdominal’ or ‘central’ obesity). Interestingly, previous research in men found that higher levels of abdominal obesity was associated with an enhanced risk of dementia in later life.
Now, the same association has been found in women. In a study published recently in the journal Neurology, women aged 38-60 were assessed periodically over a 32-year period (starting in 1968) . Women with evidence of abdominal obesity (as adjudged by a waist-to-hip circumference ratio of more than 0.80) in middle age were found to be at more than twice the risk of dementia compared to women with smaller waist-to-hip ratio measurements.
Studies of this nature do not tell us that abdominal obesity causes dementia, only that these two things are associated. Having said that, there is evidence which links insulin (high levels of which are often a feature in abdominal obesity) and the development of dementia. See here for more on this.
The link between dementia, abdominal obesity and insulin mean that there is an argument that moderating insulin secretion may have value in terms of preserving mental function in later life. I know of no better way to achieve this than cutting back on carbohydrate, specifically those that are most disruptive to blood sugar (including many starch carbs such as bread, potato, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals).
1. Gustafson DR, et al. Adiposity indicators and dementia over 32 years in Sweden Neurology 2009;73:1559-1566