Researchers at Brown University have recreated the symptoms (including the physical changes in the brain) of Alzheimer’s Disease, by a surprising route.  They interfered with the way rat’s brains responded to insulin.

Insulin is best known for its role in metabolising sugars – and the fact that those who can’t produce or regulate it properly have Diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin properly, and Type 2 occurs when liver, fat and muscle cells fail to respond properly to insulin.

What most people don’t know (I know I didn’t) is that insulin also plays a role in brain signalling.  Spikes in insulin make the hippocampus work more efficiently.  In the past, this would have been useful – find some berries, eat them, glucose spikes, so insulin is produced, so spatial memory is improved, and you can remember where you found them.

This brain link has led some people to suggest that Alzheimer’s could be “Type 3” diabetes – a type where the brain fails to respond properly to the hormone.

There is currently an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes – I know 2 people who have been diagnosed in the past year, and I don’t have that many friends.  The WHO projects that deaths from diabetes will double between 2005 and 2030 (from a baseline of approximately 3.4 million deaths per year).

The epidemic is largely the result of obesity and lack of exercise, and these same causes could contribute to a rise in the third type.  Which leads us back to the article I linked to, which is entitled “Eat Your Way to Dementia”.  If you’re interested in neuropathology, I suggest you go read it.  Some of the scientific details escape me, but what I’m taking away from it is this: eat healthier, and your brain might work longer.