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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

Can You Really Give Up Sugar?

As we nested at home these last few months, and will continue to stick around the house for at least a while longer, I had a fresh look at my processed sugar consumption (white sugar, molasses, maple syrup, etc.) and helped clients answer the question, “Can you really give up sugar?”

Like many of us, it seems the longer I have stayed at home, the more inclined I become to add a little sweet treat to help me deal with being on an extended staycation. Not long ago, I reached a point where I was buying several extra-large brown butter chocolate chip cookies every few days. This was a very bad sign that I had fallen (again) down the white hole. Because sugar creates inflammation in our bodies, and because definitive research showing that along with inflammation, sugar brings on brain fog, I can only claim my brain was so foggy I couldn’t make good, healthy decisions regarding the chocolate chip cookies. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. 😉

can you really give up sugar

For our short science lesson today let’s look at what sugar does to your body:

Inflammation

Years of consuming too much sugar cause the delicate mix of bacteria in our gut (remember the gut is our second brain) to become so imbalanced we lose all the protective qualities of the good bacteria that once lived there. For more on this, check out my article on the Gut-Brain Connection.  All that sugar we consume results in inflammation that zooms straight to our brains. This action causes not only the aforementioned brain fog, but actually kills brain cells. Our brains shrink. No kidding.

High Blood Sugar

Dr. Vera Novak, M.D., Ph.D. of The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute looked at how sugar affects the brain and found insulin resistance or “high blood sugar” (and often resulting diabetes) over time attacks the functional connectivity of the brain. Insulin resistance develops when the cells can’t process insulin properly and it backflows into the blood stream, creating high blood sugar, a term we are hearing more and more. We now know that insulin resistance is a major component contributing to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Vascular Disease

From insulin resistance we end up with vascular disease, which affects the small blood vessels in the brain, reduces blood flow, and causes vascular dementia. In dozens of studies, many scientists find the same results to be true. To repeat, there’s a strong connection between high sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s. High sugar intake also results in a variety of chronic diseases related to inflammation – heart disease, cancer, arthritis – as well as all forms of gastro-intestinal disease. Knowing that sugar can cause anxiety, sugar can cause palpitations, and sugar can make us fat, we might be ready to give up sugar and adopt a new eating plan.

Mediterranean Diet

Time for some Good News! Dr. Martha Clare Morris, director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, analyzed data from 923 people ages 58 to 98 who kept detailed food diaries about what they ate from 2004 to 2013. Dr. Morris found those who adopted the Mediterranean Diet* had a 50% drop in the development of Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia) compared to those eating a typical American diet of processed foods, high amounts of red meat, sugar, white flour, all fake sugar, diet sodas, and fried foods.

I am a front-row cheerleader for adopting the Mediterranean Diet, as years ago it became my way of eating. Not that I don’t occasionally cheat—those chocolate chip cookies sometimes beckon–  but I really try to stick to that diet a majority of the time. And, not only does that food taste good, I love knowing that I’m eating well. Here’s a plan that has worked for me, and others with whom I’ve shared it:

I start by cutting back my sugar consumption by 50%, this red-hot minute. I will do that for a week, then cut that by 50%, then 50% each week for a month, until I am getting my sweet fix from berries or other low-glycemic natural sugars—like eating an orange. This is how I think I can manage changing for the long-term. But, I know I will fail at some point, slip up and drop three handfuls of M&M’s into my mouth one afternoon because I am having a bad day. And, that will be O.K. One indiscretion will not delete all my efforts. It isn’t a zero-sum game. Thank God. When I have an M&M fall-out, that night I will add to my gratitude list that I am grateful I only needed three handfuls to make me feel better, instead of the entire bag. I am making progress.

Alternative Sweet Options

Giving up sugar doesn’t mean your life will be without sweets. Summer makes it easier for me to stick to this plan and move toward eliminating all processed sugar, including wine, except for special occasions, because of all the delicious fruits in season. I love the berries and I could live solely on watermelon and the luscious stone fruits. Well, yum! The berries are so low on the glycemic index – GI I can have them anytime.  I save the other fruits higher on the GI for a delicious dessert in place of a piece of Key Lime pie.

The bounty of vegetables also helps release us from our sugar addiction. Just watch the GI for those veggies that score over 50. What happens when we give up sugar and fill up on fresh, organic veggies, fish, lovely salads, and ripe fruit? Our gut flora rebalances in no time, our waistline trims, and our brain fires on all cylinders. Now, that’s a blue ribbon combination!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

*https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

Can You Really Give Up Sugar?

We all have sad stories about Alzheimer’s, a disease like none other. I watched my beloved grandmother’s mind evaporate into the ethers until she was nothing but a breathing, weighted imprint on the bed sheet. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, a time for us to share those stories and remember.

When the first hiccups in my grandmother’s brain appeared, little was known about Alzheimer’s. Ronald Reagan had it, and was being lovingly cared for by his wife, but research was sketchy and, the media gave it little airtime or print space. I first knew something was wrong with Gran when I arrived at her home one cold January morning and found the air conditioning turned down to sixty degrees. She was lying on her bed in only a thin nightgown, the bedclothes thrown on the floor. She was unable to move as the cold air had aggravated her arthritis and she was momentarily paralyzed with pain.

My heart broke in half. Here was my rock, my sweet, loving grandmother, whose generosity, and kindness toward me never wavered. I had no idea what was happening to her, but I knew something was terribly amiss. Not long after, my family met with her doctor and learned she probably had Alzheimer’s. In those early days, books were our only informational source and so I read everything in print about the disease—maybe five books– and cried. And cried, and cried. I learned Alzheimer’s was a slow death sentence, as the saying goes, death by a thousand cuts. Anyone who has walked in these deerskins can tell this tale. Eventually Gran was unable to speak or recognize any of us. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and worse, that I, the A+ researcher, could find nothing, or no one, to offer any hope, because none existed at the time.

However, I never gave up my search for preventative measures. When the first information came out about what we could do to stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s (which is a type of dementia) I paid attention. I took up the piano because I love music and wanted to learn to play, and because the early research showed learning a musical instrument might be a good way to avoid the disease. Fast-forward to my second career where I became a gerontologist, and how lucky I was to have Dr. Alison Balbag as one of my professors. Dr. Balbag found that musicians develop Alzheimer’s only 35% of the time compared to non-musicians. Further research expanded on the benefits of music for our brain and cognitive function. I have written extensively about this in past posts: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-14-i-hear-music/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-21-play-it-again-sam/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-28-make-love-and-music/

Cue to late 2019, and what we know this red-hot minute as our best protections against dementia and Alzheimer’s, and, amazingly, ways to be vibrant, as well J: HIIT exercise—high-intensity-interval-training, as discovered by my favorite girl gang, Nobel Prize winning duo Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elisa Eppel, might be the top contender. https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-26-slowing-down-our-clocks/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-3-12-more-is-better/

Add to that the findings of Dale Bredesen, MD, and several others who found diet to be a critical factor, along with stress reduction and increased meaningful social engagement.  https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/your-brain-on-food/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/12-best-brain-foods-for-memory-concentration-and-brain-health/    ;https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-19-stress-and-memory/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/our-vibrant-hearts/

If we can make the following choices, we dramatically increase our chances of keeping dementia and Alzheimer’s as merely words in the dictionary and out of our lives.

  • Say sayonara to sugar in all forms except low-sugar fruit
  • Limit alcohol intake to a few glasses of red wine a week
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet—whole grains, fish, fruits, and vegetables, olive oil
  • Make seven to eight hours of sleep a night a priority
  • Meditate to reduce stress
  • Find more ways to be happy and have fun

I really try to adhere to these guidelines. Do I fail some days? Heck yes, but as Scarlett said as Rhett walked into the darkening mist, “Tomorrow is another day.” Being aware of what makes our lives better, allows us to make new choices tomorrow.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!