EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Rebecca Hurst is in incredible health. At age 70, she walks seven to eight miles a day. She also eats a plant-based diet.
However, Hurst got worried when she started to forget things.
“Then I have to go back to the other room to remember what I was going to the other room for,” she said.
Hurst was afraid she had Alzheimer’s disease — or what some researchers today are calling "Type 3 diabetes."
“The difference is that with Type 2, it’s typically insulin resistance in the pancreas. With Type 3, it’s insulin resistance in the brain, and that makes a ton of sense to us, said Dr. Stephen Peters, a neuropsychologist at Intermountain Healthcare.
Hurst went in for routine testing and to her relief, nothing was wrong. In fact, Peters said she was doing everything right to prevent Type 3 diabetes.
“Her brain is probably younger than other people who carry brains that are her age just because she’s taken such good care of it,” Peters said.
New research points to three main ways to prevent the illness. Peters said eating the right food is important.
“That’s what causes dementia is the way we eat — high fructose corn syrups and processed foods," he said.
Peters attributes the Western diet as a contributing factor leading to Alzheimer’s disease. He said people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, and eat too much sugar and dessert.
“Here in America, I think we get it with every meal — with lunch and dinner,” he said. “Fat and sugar feeds dementia.”
Peters said our diet can create inflammation in the brain, which produces amyloid plaques. “When you develop those, we’re off to the races. That’s Alzheimer’s disease,” he added.
Peters warned against the dangers of excessive adipose tissue or fat. “The more fat you have around your middle, the greater rate your brain shrinks,” he said.
Body fat can leak a caustic substance into your bloodstream, which deteriorates the blood brain barrier and causes brain shrinkage, Peters added. He also said exercise is important because it stimulates more blood and oxygen deeper into the brain.
“So if you’re getting blood up there, your brain is holding up better over time,” Peters said.
Additionally, Peters said finding ways to reduce stress is important. Hurst finds playing the piano or going for a walk outside are effective ways to relieve stress.
Peters also recommended people do things that require them to think, like learning how to speak another language or playing chess. He said these are effective ways to stimulate the brain.
“Your brain is who you are. It’s where all your memories are. That’s where your personality is. You want to preserve that,” Peters said.
Instead of having a memory clinic like the one Peters works at today, he suggested a center for brain health is needed in which doctors focus on how to prevent the illness from developing before it starts.
“The disease probably starts decades before [people show symptoms] with how we eat and whether we exercise or not,” he said.
Unfortunately, Peters said the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in Utah is increasing by 127 percent — outpacing the nation. He credits this to people living longer in Utah, but confirms that insulin resistance in the brain is the No. 1 metabolic disorder linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Peters said it’s simple: get exercise, eat healthy. And if you haven’t already started, he said, “It is never too late!”