How to Prevent Cognitive Decline
If we told you there is a simple way to keep your brain and memories intact as you got older, would you be interested? If you knew there were things you could do to avoid the horror of losing your memory and living in a nursing home, would you do them? Well, a series of compelling Australian studies in recent years shows very clearly one potential way how to prevent cognitive decline and the loss of associated brain volume.
Higher range of normal blood glucose decreases brain volume
The first study in 2012  was part of a longitudinal study conducted over 20 years in the Canberra region called the PATH study (Personality and Total Health through Life). This involves 7,500 people in three age groups who are followed every four years. The 2012 study was of 266 cognitively healthy individuals free of diabetes, aged 60-64 years, and all with blood glucose levels within the normal range (<6.1 mmol/L or 110 mg/dl).
By using MRI scans at the start and after 4 years, it was found that those participants at the higher end of “normal” had lost 6 – 10% of the volume of their hippocampal and amygdalar regions of the brain.
This is pretty alarming if you are concerned about how to prevent cognitive decline. Imagine losing 10% of vital parts of your brain every 4 years! Remember that the study participants were selected to be cognitively healthy, without diabetes and within the normal blood glucose range. We can only wonder what the rate of brain loss would have been if the participants had higher ranges of glucose levels or were already diabetic.
It is well known in the scientific literature that type 2 diabetes correlates with “accelerated brain ageing , which is why the authors of the study only selected participants without diabetes and in the accepted range of normal blood glucose levels.
The fact that people at the higher end of normal were showing this amount of brain volume decrease, when the people with lower blood glucose levels did not, is a clear indicator that the accepted high end limit for normal levels is too high and that people should be encouraged to strive for lower levels of fasting blood sugar if they really want to know how to prevent cognitive decline as they grow older.
Would higher range of normal blood glucose decrease frontal cortices & cognitive performance?
The second study by the same group in 2013 , followed 210 cognitively healthy individuals (68–73 years) without diabetes, glucose intolerance or metabolic syndrome and, as before, all were within the normal range for blood glucose levels.
This time the researchers were trying to find out if other areas of the brain were affected by blood sugar levels and whether there was any change in cognitive performance associated with brain structure changes.
- They found that higher blood glucose levels in the normal range were associated with decreased volumes in the frontal cortices and that these brain regions were associated with poorer cognitive performance.
- Importantly, they found that these structure-function associations were gender specific to men.
So we blokes had better watch out!! The study concluded:-
These findings stress the need to re-evaluate what is considered as healthy blood glucose levels, and consider the role of higher normal blood glucose as a risk factor for cerebral health, cognitive function and dementia. A better lifetime management of blood glucose levels may contribute to improved cerebral and cognitive health in later life and possibly protect against dementia.
How to prevent cognitive decline?
Judging by these studies, and there are plenty more like this to be found on PubMed, the answer would seem quick straightforward, but not necessarily easy to accomplish due to uncontrolled sugar addictions.
- We need to minimise sugars from ALL sources in order to keep our blood glucose levels as low as possible.
- It is clearly not sufficient to be told by your doctor that your blood sugar level is in the normal range. You need to know exactly where in the range it falls.
- If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, it is important that you manage your condition through dietary changes and exercise. Talk to your health care professional about how to achieve this, and if they do not know or do not believe it is possible, find another one who does. We have personally witnessed an insulin injecting diabetic be free of insulin in one week, just through diet and exercise.
What is meant by sugars from all sources?
Carbohydrates such as breads, cakes, pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes etc are broken down to provide us with glucose. But if you stop to think for one moment what a large part these play in the average diet, you will realise that knowing how to prevent cognitive decline is much easier said that implementing a lifestyle that minimises sugars from all sources.
We are not talking about added sugar, which clearly needs to be reduced/eliminated or substituted, but all obvious sugars in all the food and drink that forms your diet together with the not obvious hidden sugars in processed foods – ever wondered why baked beans taste so sweet?
In fact, you can obtain all the carbohydrates you need from vegetables even when excluding the starchy vegetables, and you will not need all the breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits etc that you have grown used to.
As with any change in lifestyle that seems overwhelming, the only way to accomplish it is
One step at a time.
Don’t rush, make manageable changes that you can sustain. It really is possible and your body and health will thank you for it and you will be taking action on how to prevent cognitive decline in your later years.
Enjoying life while minimising sugar, Edith and Tim at CoolWellbeing Foundation
 Manschot SM, Brands AM, van der Grond J, Kessels RP, Algra A, et al. (2006) Brain magnetic resonance imaging correlates of impaired cognition in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 55: 1106–1113[PubMed]
 High “Normal” Blood Glucose Is Associated with Decreased Brain Volume and Cognitive Performance in the 60s: The PATH through Life Study