Scientists are finding more evidence that you should probably cut down on your sugar intake.
A group of U.K. researchers say they’ve spotted the molecular “tipping point” that could explain sugar’s ties to Alzheimer’s disease.
Their findings provide further evidence that there might be a link between high blood sugar levels and the memory-robbing disease, though they don’t prove that sugar causes Alzheimer’s outright.
“Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity,” said Omar Kassaar, a biologist at the University of Bath, in a press release.
“But this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” he said.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disease that eventually hinders a person’s ability to function. Along the way, the brain steadily erases all the names, faces, places and stories it’s stored up over decades. Some people grow paranoid and depressed, or they stop eating and sleeping.
In the U.S., Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death.
With Alzheimer’s, abnormal proteins accumulate into plaques and tangle between the brain’s nerve cells. This build-up progressively damages the brain and leads to severe cognitive decline.
Previous research has shown that glucose the body’s main source of sugar and its related breakdown products can damage proteins in the body’s cells. This happens through a reaction called glycation: when a sugar molecule bonds to a protein, without the controlling action of an enzyme.
But scientists have lacked an understanding of the specific molecular link between glucose and Alzheimer’s. That is, until now.
This week, Kassaar and his colleagues from the University of Bath and King’s College London said they’ve unraveled that link a discovery that could lead to new treatments or prevention measures for the brain disease, they said.
In the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers looked at brain samples from people with and without Alzheimer’s.
They used a sensitive technique to detect the process of glycation. The researchers saw that, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, glycation damages an enzyme called MIF, or macrophage migration inhibitory factor.
MIF plays a role in insulin regulation and immune response. By inhibiting and reducing MIF, glycation seemed to hinder the brain cell’s response to the accumulation of abnormal proteins.
The U.K. team found that as Alzheimer’s progresses, glycation of the MIF enzymes increases. That makes MIF the likely “tipping point” in disease progression, according to their study.
“Normally MIF would be part of the immune response to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain,” Jean van den Elsen, a co-author and professor in the University of Bath’s biology and biochemistry department, said in the press release.
“We think that because sugar damage reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others that this could be a tipping point that allows Alzheimer’s to develop,” he said.
Van den Elsen said the team is now looking to see if they can detect similar changes in blood, which would further confirm the suspected links between glucose and Alzheimer’s.