We have all heard about diabetes and how prevalent it is becoming in our country, especially Type 2. This condition, although commonly called “adult-onset diabetes”, actually affects people of all ages, and is connected to a diet high in sugar, lack of exercise, and even some environmental factors. But just recently, researchers have revealed another type of diabetes similar to Type 2 that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are now saying Alzheimer’s and dementia may actually be a form of diabetes, known as Type 3 diabetes. This is a huge discovery!

Nearly every day in my practice I come across patients who are on their way to developing insulin resistance, a pre-cursor to diabetes. Because the symptoms may be minimal at first, many people do not even know they have it. We are proactive when it comes to checking blood sugar levels, and we always encourage our patients to eat nutritiously, exercise, and curb chronic stress. But now we have evidence that these factors are more important than ever in preventing a number of diseases, including the recently identified Type 3 diabetes. The good news is, we can virtually stop this disease before it even starts. Let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

What is Type 3 diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to make adequate amounts of insulin, a hormone released to help cells absorb glucose (also known as blood sugar), providing us with energy. Diabetes is divided into categories, and each characterized by its own set of circumstances.

Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults and cannot be corrected with diet or a change in lifestyle. Type 1 is genetically predetermined, and requires daily insulin injections to balance glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes happens when the cells cannot identify or absorb the insulin put out by the pancreas, and usually occurs with obesity, and/or a strong family history of diabetes. The good news is that in its earlier stages, Type 2 is easier to manage with diet and lifestyle modifications.

With Type 3 diabetes, the researchers at Brown Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital discovered that insulin is not only released from the pancreas, but also the brain. This opens a whole new perspective on both diabetes and Alzheimer’s – the progressive degenerative disorder causing loss of memory, intellectual capacity and even personality changes.

Type 3 diabetes is an extension of Type 1 and Type 2, and follows a similar pathophysiology as Type 2, but in the brain. Insulin is needed to help the neurons in the brain absorb glucose for healthy functioning, and if the cells in the brain become insulin-resistant, it can lead to Alzheimer’s.

This form of dementia worsens over time, eventually impeding daily functioning. Early diagnosis is critical to try to slow down the disease and help maintain quality of life. For many years, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been linked to genetics and lifestyle, diet, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The groundbreaking study at Brown not only shows us this common thread, but teaches us that we can actually change the way our brain cells respond by controlling our diets. This is amazing news!

Ways to help prevent Type 3 diabetes

Since the link between diet and diabetes – and now Alzheimer’s – has been established, let’s think about our lifestyle. We live in a country of “super-sized”, easily accessible, processed foods, providing quick energy. High on refined sugar, but low on nutrition, these foods, including processed meats, fast food, donuts, sugary colas, and candy, can actually inhibit cell functioning, leading down a pathway to disease.

Some healthier choices include fresh fruits, green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, high-fiber breads and cereals, fish, nuts, and legumes. A healthy diet lowers our risk of diseases, boosts our immune system, and even helps delay the aging process, not to mention we feel better when we eat right.

In addition to good nutrition, exercise also plays an important role in keeping our cells, and therefore our body, functioning properly. The key here is to do something you enjoy, so you do it consistently. The benefits of exercise are numerous. Not only does it improve our resistance to disease, it helps reduce inflammation associated with disease, sharpen our minds, and keeps all of the systems in our body flowing smoothly.

Reducing our exposure to environmental toxins is also helpful in preventing Type 3 diabetes. We know that cigarette smoke, air and industrial pollutants, and artificial chemicals can pose hazards to our health. Although the studies are fairly new, researchers are also investigating electropollution, or frequent exposure to the energy emitted from electronic devices, as a contributor to this form of diabetes. Since we are almost constantly exposed to technology, how do we combat electropollution? Fresh air. A brisk walk outside has been shown to reduce blood sugar.

At Women to Women, we work with our patients each and every day on the importance of lifestyle balance. We know that obesity, lack of exercise, chronic stress, and not enough sleep can cause a number of health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndromes, risk of stroke, and impaired brain function. We can now add Alzheimer’s to our list of nutrition-modulated, potentially preventable diseases.

I’m excited to learn about this study, as its results may change the course of a disease that impacts not just those who have it, but families, caregivers, and medical providers. When we can control so many of the factors that lead to diseases like Type 3 diabetes, we can become empowered. Imagine being able to not only improve your health span, but do it with a sharp mind and renewed energy.