The type of sugar that seems to drive Alzheimer’s disease – study

Alzheimers Research UK explain 'what is dementia?'

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Patients with Alzheimer’s disease were found to have high levels of a certain type of sugar in their brains. A new study suggests that naturally-occurring sugar may play a major role in dementia risk.

New research warns that diet drives the development of Alzheimer’s disease, with certain sugar stirring the wheel.

The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that fructose could hold clues to the development and possible treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fructose describes a type of sugar found naturally in fruits, fruit juices, some vegetables and honey.

The natural sweetener is also a basic component in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup which is used to flavour many processed foods and beverages.

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The study’s lead author Richard Johnson said: “We make the case that Alzheimer’s disease is driven by diet.”

Johnson and his team suggested that Alzheimer’s disease is a harmful adaptation of an evolutionary survival pathway used in animals and our distant ancestors during times of scarcity.

The researchers penned: “A basic tenet of life is to assure enough food, water and oxygen for survival.

“Much attention has focused on the acute survival responses to hypoxia and starvation. However, nature has developed a clever way to protect animals before the crisis actually occurs.”

When faced with the possibility of starvation, early humans developed a survival response which sent them foraging for food. 

Foraging requires focus, rapid assessment, impulsivity, exploratory behaviour and risk-taking. 

The practice is enhanced by blocking whatever gets in the way, like recent memories, and this is where fructose steps in.

The sugar helps damp down these centres, allowing more focus to be centred at food gathering.

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The researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found the entire foraging response was set in motion by the metabolism of fructose whether it was eaten or just produced in the body. 

Furthermore, the team noticed that fructose reduced blood flow to the brain’s cerebral cortex involved in self-control, as well as the hippocampus and thalamus. 

Johnson said: “We believe that initially the fructose-dependent reduction in cerebral metabolism in these regions was reversible and meant to be beneficial.

“But chronic and persistent reduction in cerebral metabolism driven by recurrent fructose metabolism leads to progressive brain atrophy and neuron loss with all of the features of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers suspect that while the survival response helped ancient humans, it now leads to overeating of high-fat, sugary and salty foods, prompting excess fructose production.

Worryingly, fructose produced in the brain can lead to inflammation and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease.

“You can find high fructose levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s as well,” Johnson said.

The researchers added that more dietary and pharmacologic trials are now needed to examine whether fructose reduction can benefit, prevent or manage the brain-robbing condition.

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