Sugar’s ‘sweet spot’ link to Alzheimer’s disease discovered

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commision believe that the most common causes of dementia in EU are Alzheimer's disease (about 50-70% of cases). ©iStock
The European Commision believe that the most common causes of dementia in EU are Alzheimer's disease (about 50-70% of cases). ©iStock

Related tags Blood sugar levels Blood sugar Diabetes mellitus

An excess of sugar appears to promote the onset of Alzheimer’s disease as British researchers identify a link between diet and the neurological disorder.

The findings appear to centre on the damage high blood sugar levels does to a key enzyme in the inflammatory response in the condition’s early stages.

High blood sugar levels or hyperglycaemia is one of the hallmarks of diabetes as well as obesity and potentially places those with these conditions at a heightened risk of brain complications.

“Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” ​said study author Dr Omar Kassaar, from the University of Bath.

In a joint collaboration involving scientists from the University of Bath and King’s College London, brain tissue from individuals with Alzheimer’s was studied.

The team were looking for evidence of glycation – a reaction that involves breaking down glucose into products that can damage proteins contained in cells.

The scientists noted that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s glycation played a major role in altering the function of an enzyme known as MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) which mediates the immune response and regulates insulin levels.

More relevantly, MIF plays a role in preventing the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease.

The ‘tipping point’ in disease onset

diet health weight obesity fat CharlieAJA
The link between obesity and neurological function is becoming prominent amongst research scientists. ©iStock/CharlieAJA

It may be that inhibition of MIF’s role as a result of the glycation process may well be the ‘tipping point’ in disease progression.

The researchers believe the onset of Alzheimer’s is strongly linked with the glycation of these enzymes.

“We’ve shown that this enzyme is already modified by glucose in the brains of individuals at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  We are now investigating if we can detect similar changes in blood,” ​said Dr Jean van den Elsen, professor from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

“Normally MIF would be part of the immune response to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, and 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.

Globally there are approximately 50 million people with Alzheimer’s disease, with this figure predicted to rise to over 125 million by 2050.

The global social cost of the disease runs into hundreds of billions of pounds in addition to medical care patients also need social care as a result of the cognitive decline the disease inflicts.

Metformin treatment clue

Despite the efforts made in mapping the progression of Alzheimer’s, the condition’s link to diet and especially sugar is not well understood.

It has been suggested that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is increased in individuals with diabetes.

Even in individuals without diabetes, higher glucose levels have been associated with an increased incidence of the neurological condition.

Chronic inflammation, a common risk factor of diabetes and obesity, induced by the proinflammatory action of MIF is associated with insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

In obesity, plasma MIF concentrations are increased, but treatment with the anti-diabetic and anti-glycation agent metformin, decreases the MIF levels to normal.

With this in mind the link between hyperglycaemia and dementia through glycation and inflammation becomes stronger.

“Knowing this will be vital to developing a chronology of how Alzheimer’s progresses and we hope will help us identify those at risk of Alzheimer’s and lead to new treatments or ways to prevent the disease,”​ said Dr Rob Williams, reader and study author based at the University of Bath’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry.


Source: Scientific Reports

Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1038/srep42874

“Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Authors: Rob Williams, Omar Kassaar,  Jean van den Elsen et al.

Related news

Related products

show more

Oat Groats – Heat-treated Oat Kernels

Oat Groats – Heat-treated Oat Kernels

Content provided by Lantmännen Biorefineries AB | 06-Dec-2023 | Product Brochure

Lantmännen offers now Oat Groats: Heat-treated oat kernels, also known as oat groats or kilned oats, undergo heat treatment to inhibit enzymes that could...

Oat Beta-glucan – Clean Label Texturizer

Oat Beta-glucan – Clean Label Texturizer

Content provided by Lantmännen Biorefineries AB | 21-Nov-2023 | White Paper

In today's health-conscious world, consumers seek transparent labels and natural ingredients.

Sweetening solutions for active nutrition

Sweetening solutions for active nutrition

Content provided by ADM: Innovation that Feeds the Future | 13-Oct-2023 | Case Study

When you add GrainSweet® Liquid Maltodextrin to your active nutrition applications you get the manufacturing efficiencies, cleaner labels and clean tastes...


Sugar is sugar

Posted by Jan Steinman,

Geoffrey O'Sullivan, sucrose plus sucrase equals glucose plus fructose.

What about that don't you understand?

Having "worked in the sugar and sweetener industry," might your view be less balanced than you think?

Report abuse

Caregivers Beware

Posted by gary chandler,

Several factors are contributing to the global surge in Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, the government, advocacy groups, industry and even doctors are ignoring critical science.

“There is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine. “In fact, this ability to transmit an abnormal conformation is probably a universal property of amyloid-forming proteins.”

Dr. Stanley Prusiner, a Nobel-Prize winning scientist who discovered prions and other prion scientists, including Claudio Soto and Joel Pedersen, also are being ignored. Caregivers are at a much greater risk of contracting the disease. That's because Alzheimer's is part of a spectrum disease known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is "transmissible.”

Report abuse

Just sugar bashing - again.

Posted by Geoffrey O'Sullivan,

These affects are linked to blood glucose levels that are linked more to a high GI diet than sugar which is sucrose GI 65. That in the body is fructose and glucose. Very high levels of sugar would cuase high blood sugar if the "patient" has impaired glucose metabolism - this would be the cause of disease - NOT SUGAR per see it is not the route of all eveils. I have worked in sugar and sweetener industry so have a balanced view of sugar and not chasing funding from the anti sugar lobby - that actually objects more to the cost of sugar than its health properties.

Report abuse

Follow us


View more