Friday, September 21, 2012

Alzheimer’s Disease and the Link with Junk Food

It is already well-known that a diet high in junk food can lead to obesity, diabetes and other diseases, but there is a growing body evidence that junk food can have another effect, and this one even more debilitating: Alzheimer’s disease. With 5.4 million Americans currently affected by Alzheimer’s, unless something is done this prevalence will climb higher as Americans live longer. There is a role that policymakers can play in helping to abate this growing public health crisis, and that is by putting an emphasis on prevention: creating policies that expand children and families’ access to healthy, affordable food.
Prompted by New Scientist’s September 1 cover story on the issue, The Guardian summarized the latest research suggesting that Alzheimer’s is primarily a metabolic disease. It has long been established that people with type 2 diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the general population. There are also associations between Alzheimer’s and obesity and metabolic syndrome. Now some scientists are strengthening the link and have even renamed Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes” because they believe that Alzheimer’s is caused largely by the brain’s impaired response to insulin. Insulin in the brain has functions beyond glucose metabolism—it also regulates the transmission of signals between nerve cells, and affects their growth, plasticity and survival.
Anyone who has cared for a family member with Alzheimer’s can affirm how disabling this disease can be, and the stresses it can put on families. In fact, more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer's and other dementias.
The cost of Alzheimer’s treatment to the state and federal government is also enormous. Average per person Medicare payments for an older person with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are nearly 3 times higher than for an older person without these conditions. Medicaid payments are 19 times higher.
Research has not reached the point where scientists can unequivocally say that poor diet is a leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but there is enough evidence to underscore the public health message of healthy diet. Furthermore, this becomes a policy issue because low-income communities and communities that are predominately people of color have a disproportionately low access to healthy food. To possibly prevent our children of today from developing Alzheimer’s later in their lives, it will be important to invest in widening their access to healthy, affordable foods.
For policymakers, see the Policy For Results brief on increasing access to healthy affordable foods.

1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting post, I didn't know junk food could be linked with this. I came across your blog while I was reading articles on Alzheimer’s patient care and I'm happy i did because it was very informative. Thank you for sharing this with us Andrea!