Do High Blood Sugar Surges Put You in a Cognitive “Danger Zone?”

For years, researchers have identified a distinct relationship between long-term high blood sugar levels and risk for cognitive decline. Studies have shown a further link between long-term high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and a decline in brain and cognitive function.

What does this mean for you? 

The risk for cognitive decline is not tied only to obesity and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes). New research shows you may be increasing your risk of cognitive decline by simply consuming too many carbohydrates in general. Even if you maintain a “healthy” weight and display no signs of metabolic distress, constant, ongoing high blood sugar surges from carbs can put you in the danger zone of cognitive decline.

How does this decline occur? 

Whether or not your blood sugar level technically falls into the category of diabetic (>200 mg/dL on a Glucose Tolerance Test), there are several reasons why having high blood sugar can eventually lead to dementia and cognitive decline (such as the prediabetic score of 140 to 199 mg/dL). When your blood sugar is consistently too high, your blood vessels can become stressed, which in turn increases the likelihood of “mini-strokes” in brain cells. These small episodes can exacerbate various forms of dementia and increase the development of cognitive decline.

Having extra weight on your body can also increase the risk of these cognitive effects. Hormones and cytokines (inflammatory proteins generated by body fat) can also contribute to cognitive deterioration as inflammation levels rise. Being diagnosed with hypertension at a person’s midlife point is also a major risk factor for cognitive decline – even independently of other risk factors such as obesity. Think of this inflammatory process as a “slow burn” of essential nutrients needed by your brain and body - yikes! 

How can you manage your blood sugar? 

Blood sugar levels fluctuate up and down during the day. However, when you eat carbs, your blood sugar level will immediately start to rise. That’s why snacking on carbs is a bad idea. Skip the pretzels and crackers; instead, opt for some walnuts or strawberries.

Blood sugar levels that are consistently too high can cause more problems than just cognitive decline. Heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease are serious consequences that can be caused or made worse by having consistently high blood sugar due to excessive carbohydrate consumption. 

Here are a few ways that you can manage blood sugar:

  • Limit carbohydrates. Refined or whole-grain carbohydrates can make your blood sugar spike after you eat them, so limiting the carbohydrates you consume is an important step in managing blood sugar levels. Especially try to limit your intake of all carbohydrate foods (such as wheat, bread, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, candy, pies, potatoes, and corn). These common foods are well-known to spike sugar levels. 
  • Be more active. Regular exercise can help you keep your blood sugar levels lower. 
  • Watch your diet. Eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein sources can help you keep your body healthy. 
  • Drink your water. Drinking an adequate amount of purified water each day (especially instead of drinking juice or soda) can stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Choose healthier “sweet” treats. If you are craving a sweet dessert, choose fresh fruit or a smoothie rather than cookies or cake (which are laden with white flour and white sugar).

With a little effort, you can win the “carb war” by planning meals with reduced “junk” carbs and more of those things your mother told you about. What was the name of that? Oh yes, veggies!!!!