The recommendations in short

If you are thinking about carbohydrates and sugars and want to change your diet, then consider the following points:

  • Diet change to foods with a low glycemic index
  • Reduction in the intake of sugars with a strong influence on insulin levels, in particular sucrose (household sugar) and glucose (dextrose)
  • Dietary supplementation with D-galactose and coconut oil
  • Measurement of B vitamin status and, when appropriate, supplementation
  • Exercise and sport as frequent as possible, regularly and moderately

Essentially, simple measures that immediately provide your brain with more energy!

General information

Carbohydrates are better known in the popular language as sugars. But not all sugars are the same. The first thought that comes to mind when thinking about sugar is the usual household sugar (sucrose), which can be found in drinks and bakery products. Fructose is also very well known and, as its name suggests, is found in fruit. The sugar that is measured to exclude diabetes (blood sugar disease) is blood glucose.  There are also many other sugars – just take a look at the nutrition information of a yoghurt or a purchased fruit juice spritzer: added sugar is usually hidden under the suffix -ose or as syrups.

Sugars can be chemically divided into single (monosaccharides), double (disaccharides) and then complex sugars (polysaccharides) based on their number of sugar molecules. This classification refers to biochemical processes such as, for example, the speed of energy production, which is fast in the case of double sugars such as the aforementioned household sugar and the blood sugar level rises accordingly. In contrast, particularly complex sugars first have to be broken down into smaller sugar building blocks by enzymes in order to obtain adequate energy.

Background – brain needs sugar

The brain is the major energy consumer in the human body (approx. 25% of the total energy consumption). This energy can easily be provided by the blood sugar (glucose). Just 150 years ago, sugar was a luxury good. Pure sugar meant reward and was used for special occasions in fine food. The supply of the body with glucose was ensured at that time by the nutrition from the simple and complex carbohydrates contained in numerous foods. From 1852 until today, however, the per capita consumption of refined sugar in Germany (as in all industrialised countries) has increased almost exponentially. This fact leads to a flooding of the body with sugars mainly in the form of fructose, glucose and sucrose.

Zuckerverbrauch Deutschland 1852-2005

Why does the brain need sugar?

To maintain the structure and function of nerve cells, only the monosaccharide (monosaccharide) glucose (dextrose) is required. Within the cell, glucose is converted into the fuel of all cells ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It also provides substrates for cell formation. One could think: as much sugar as possible is supplied and the brain (and all other cells) are full of energy and live happily? Unfortunately this is not true at all.

Sugar overload – the Sweet Killer 

The crucial point is the path that glucose takes from the blood and the extracellular space into the cell. The magic ingredient for this is the hormone insulin produced by the pancreas – and, as has been known for a few years now, also to a small extent by the brain [Gerozissis 2003]. Each cell has so-called insulin receptors, which ensure that the glucose is transported into the cell – as long as there is no insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance occurs when the sensitivity and response of the insulin receptors are disturbed and altered. Glucose can then no longer be adequately utilised, the blood sugar level rises and, above certain thresholds, the entire organism is immensely damaged. Insulin resistance leads to addictive behaviour (sugar addiction), fatigue syndrome, eating disorders, circulatory disorders and diabetes mellitus type 2.

What does insulin resistance mean for the brain?

The cells in the brain can also become insulin-resistant. However, the brain is the body’s largest energy consumer, so a lack of energy is catastrophic for all human cognitive and motor performance. Memory performance, cognitive abilities and concentration are particularly affected. Equally, the increased incidence of depression and dementia [Razay 2007] is closely related to insulin resistance in the brain.

Insulin resistance is further increased by a lack of physical exercise. On the other hand, any kind of physical/muscular activity improves the sensitivity of the insulin receptors and facilitates the transport of glucose into the cell interior. Even serious cases of insulin resistance can be improved by sport and moderate exercise to a greater extent than by drug treatment [Knowler 2002].

Practical recommendations

But “grey is all theory…”. For those at risk of dementia, these facts provide some important recommendations:

  1. Eat a diet low in simple carbohydrates and sugar. A good method to achieve this is to follow the LOGI method (Low Glycemic Index). This form of nutrition does not exclude a piece of cake from time to time, but concentrates on low-carbohydrate vegetables and fruits, nuts, good meat (if desired, e.g. from cattle), lots of fish and good fats and oils (mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, medium-chain saturated fatty acids). But beware: Avoid dairy products! A similar concept is offered by the “Paleo (Stone Age) Nutrition”.
  2. In the kitchen and for sweetening, use sugars that have a less intensive effect on insulin levels: e.g. isomalutose, trehalose or selected sugar substitutes such as the sugar alcohol erythritol (see also further literature). Never use aspartame (trade name: NutraSweet®), which is suspected of causing neurological damage.
  3. Avoid industrially produced foods high in fructose, especially those made using the highly enriched corn starch syrup (HFCS/High-Fructose Corn Syrup).
  4. Supply the brain and the CNS with energy via D-galactose. About 6 – max. 12 g/day can easily be achieved as sweetness e.g. in espresso or tea.
  5. Use coconut oil in your diet. Coconut oil is excellent for frying and can be used as a substitute for butter or as a spread.
  6. Have your B-vitamin blood values measured and supplement if necessary. The more sugar (household sugar) you eat, the more vitamin B complex is needed to break it down. If there is a lack of usable B vitamins, the cell metabolism is literally “stuck” due to deficiency. The vitamins of the B group are all responsible in various ways for the release of energy and for certain brain and nerve functions. Vitamin B1 (thiamine), for example, is of central importance. A deficiency disturbs the entire carbohydrate metabolism and thus energy production. The first symptoms are increased irritability, fatigue and memory weakness. Vitamins B2, B3 and B5 are also necessary for energy conversion, while B6 (pyridoxine) is predominantly involved in brain function and B12 has essential protective functions for the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord.

 

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