Good morning and welcome to Episode 099 of the Train Your Brain Podcast with Dr. Michael Trayford. It’s Monday again, so this is our weekly, 30-minute episode. (Tuesday through Sunday we produce five-minute episodes with daily tips.) Every episode of the Train Your Brain Podcast provides advice for helping you to improve the function of your brain.
In Episode 099, Dr. Trayford talks about the harmful effects of high blood sugar. In this episode Dr. Trayford give you all the scientific background you need to know about sugar and its many names and forms. Sugar damages your blood vessels and inhibits you from feeling full. Dr. Trayford recommends counting your sugar intake for a week. 1 tsp. is equal to 4 grams of sugar. Just for kicks, try this out. How much sugar do you consume daily?
If you have any concerns regarding the information and applications discussed in this podcast, please consult your physician and a doctor who is experienced in functional neurology. Michael Trayford DC, DACNB is available for consultation by calling (828) 708-5274. Thanks for listening.
I can’t believe we’re almost at the big 100.
Jason: I’m happy to be here.
I really enjoy getting together every week and provide information to the public in a way they might not get otherwise.
There’s no silver bullet or quick fix for brain health. There is no one trick pony it’s a multi-system approach that incorporates sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, brain games and all of these other big categories. It’s really important that people understand there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to building a better brain.
A lot of these tips are simple ways to improve your lives.
Last week we talked about blood sugar and the brain. Blood sugar is a foundational aspect of brain health. If you’re not handling blood sugar well, there will be problems in the brain. We’ll continue to talk about this even more in the future. Blood sugar handling is a foundational aspect of brain health.
Just a quick review. Sugar is a fuel for the brain and essential for nerve and brain health. Some simple facts about carbohydrates.
There are so many different types of sugars. It’s important to understand the differences between things like natural sweeteners, process and refined sugars, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners. Did you realize there were so many different sweet things out there?
Jason: Since I met my wife I have been impressed that there are so many different sweet things. I tell ya, I love them all.
Here’s where we have to make sense of them. Your brain craves sugars. There are parts of your brain that are impacted by things like cocaine are also stimulated by sugars. So the brain will enjoy them and crave them. It’s originally a survival mechanism, but it’s a dangerous mechanism in this day and age, because of all the processed and refined sweeteners that have entered our diets.
Many of these sweeteners were introduced for different reasons. Some were to add sweet flavors. Others were to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Also to be cheaper. Companies that made foods are trying to make a profit. Some of these foods they can remove natural sweeteners and substitute with a cheaper manmade products that cost less.
There are so many factors. We’re going to start by looking at natural sugars, which as the name implies come from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables and other natural sources like can sugar, maple syrup agave, beet sugars.
Natural sugars require the lowest energy expenditure to break down. To metabolize a food it takes energy to extract the energy to put it into a form that can readily be used by the body. Natural sugars get into the blood stream without taxing the body too much.
Now that’s good because you get faster access to energy. But if you’re eating too much you’re going to have high blood sugar levels.
We talked before about bananas, how when you buy them and bring them home they’re really gone fast. Bananas have a high glycemic index and they convert to blood sugar very rapidly. Moderation is important, as it is with anything.
Processed and refined sugars are something people have become familiar with in recent years. These are things that are modified or created to have even more sweetness. They are popular with many manufacturers, because they are cheaper in the long run. They boost the sweetness, while also extending shelf life for more long term profits.
High fructose corn syrup, the technical term for it is enzymatically altered corn glucose. Manufacturers chose to use the term high fructose corn syrup because from a marketing standpoint it sounds better on the label.
Now there is a lobby and a movement to have the title officially changed to call it corn syrup or corn sugar. There’s a lot of money being put into these changes. People have started to understand that the term high fructose corn syrup has come to be seen as a negative ingredient. So business entities want to change the name on the label so it will be harder for the consumer to identify it for a while.
High fructose corn syrup impairs your insulin response. When you eat this kind of sugar, your pancreas and the insulin that it secretes do not work very well to mitigate the blood sugar spike. There’s a lot of information to get into on this topic. In fact I will be doing a webinar series in the future looking at the impact of blood sugar and the brain.
Also, if left in the blood stream, high fructose corn syrup can damage blood vessels, which increases your chances of developing certain health problems like an increased chance of suffering a stroke.
The insulin and blood sugar spikes caused by high fructose corn syrup do not suppress your appetite. Foods and natural sugars will suppress your appetite, you brain detects them in the digestive system and thinks “Hey I need to cool it in terms of putting more in there.”
That’s why people will eat that whole tub of ice cream or that entire sleeve of Oreos, because the brain isn’t getting the cessation signal that says you’ve satisfied caloric need.
Jason: I’m trying to get better. But the thing is I just don’t think that green peppers taste as good as Oreos.
Most of these refined and processed sugars are stored as fat, at the same time they do a poor job of crossing the blood-brain barrier. The brain needs a constant and steady supply of fuel and the brain does not store fuel. So if this stuff is not crossing the blood brain barrier, your brain is not getting the fuel it needs.
It’s also important to consider that there are some natural sugars like honey and molasses that are being refined and processed in order to increase their sweetness index. So it’s important to read the labels to understand just how much they may have been modified from the original source. Even still you should only enjoy them in moderation because they can also spike blood sugar levels.
Sugar alcohols are sweeteners that you see in things like gum. They’re things like erithrotol, anatol, xyliotol. You can usually spot them on a label because they all have ‘tol at the end, which indicated alcohol.
There are lower amounts of sugar in these sweeteners, and they were initially seen as a viable sugar substitute. They’re generally found in high carbohydrate foods. The problem is that with some individuals these sweeteners cause gastrointestinal distress. Things go on in the bowel that can really cause people discomfort.
It can also cause issues with appetite and the messages being sent to the brain. If you’re chewing a piece of gum you brain is working to determine if there’s something in there. Your insulin is released and may not do it’s job. It could impact the pancreas.
Ideally, you want to focus on eating foods that are sweetened by natural sugars. In certain countries this isn’t even an issue. For instance when I was in Southern Brazil, which is a country that is becoming more and more westernized. But most of what they eat is very farm to table. Their meals are largely based on whole foods. They are getting more into soft drinks so they’re getting some refined sugars into their diets.
Talking to them about these different things. They look at you a bit puzzled, because they’re not actually eating it.
It sheds a little light on our culture and how far we’ve moved from our original diets that served us quite well in the past.
Novel sweeteners are newer sweeteners like Stevia, tagatose and others. They are low calorie and low carbohydrate. These sweeteners are considered GRAS by the FDA. This stands for Generally Recognized as Safe. This is the moniker that the FDA puts on things that they really don’t know much about.
Jason: This reminds me of when I was in college, I looked back in the cafeteria while I was going through the line. I saw the boxes that the meat was coming in and they were labeled as Grade D, but edible.
That a whole other topic we’ll talk about when it comes to school lunch.
When it comes to the GRAS sweeteners, there just isn’t enough known yet. My guess is that they will probably have some responses from a nervous system standpoint that will influence how your brain sends signals.
Artificial sweeteners like saccrine, sucralose, aspartame have been under intense scrutiny for decades. We know these things are incredibly dangerous and can cause things like cancer and neuro toxicity. The FDA has approved artificial sweeteners with acceptable levels known as ADI, or Acceptable Daily Intake. This tells you that it’s not that good that it’s only considered safe in small amounts.
My mentality is to avoid them at all costs. People trying to lose weight tend to drink more of these diet soft drinks. More and more research is coming out showing that people who consume diet beverages on a regular basis still have problems with weight and increased problems with blood sugar handling. At the end of the day logic doesn’t apply to blood sugar physiology.
We need to listen to the body and what it needs, then take it from there.
When it comes to the pancreas, blood sugar and diabetes. Diabetes is such a problem in this country right now. One half of people over 65 are considered pre-diabetic. We see people coming through the door and they haven’t had a blood sugar test done in five or ten years and they are all out of sorts.
Diabetes has direct links to problems like Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are over 30 million people in America with diabetes. Treating diabetes costs over a quarter of a trillion dollars annually. Up to 65 percent of people with pre-diabetes will develop diabetes within five years.
When I was growing up diabetes was associated with people who were obese and ate too much and had other bad habits. Now you’re seeing people who don’t fit that stereotypical model.
50% higher risk of death for people with diabetes.
Glycemic Index is an arbitrary measure of a foods ability to affect your blood sugar levels. When you eat a carbohydrate, if you have a rapid breakdown of a particular carbohydrate, it will have a high GI number. If you have a slow breakdown it will have a lower GI number.
There is a reference of glucose which is white bread. It’s a common entity and we know how fast these sugars get into the blood stream.
We’ve talked in the past about foods that have an edible jacket, like apples pears, berries and brown rice. The jacket is often where a lot of the fiber resides.
Basically the higher the fiber content of a carbohydrate, the slower it is broken down and slower it gets into your blood stream without causing blood sugar spikes.
When you eat things like banana or cantaloupe where you can’t eat the jacket, or pastas which bleached flours they have a high glycemic index. Sometimes simple carbohydrates are needed if you’re going to be doing a lot of intense activity. Otherwise you want to focus on complex carbohydrates.
So high glycemic index diets lead to diabetes and small blood vessel damage. We know this. It is not guess work. If you continuously eat high glycemic foods you will eventually eat your way into diabetes.
Things like brain fog, dementia, cognitive decline and fatigue have all been linked to blood sugar handling issues. If you go into the doctor and you say any one of those things, they will look at how you’re handling blood sugar and you might be a pre-diabetic state.
Brain fog indicates that you’re not handling blood sugar well in the brain. It’s usually associated with having a hard time remembering things, feeling a bit scattered, disconnected. It could be other things, but one of the things to consider is blood sugar.
High glycemic index diets are important to recognize in elder population or people that have had issues with auto-immune disorders in the past, or someone who has suffered a brain injury. What happens is, if someone has injured their brain or is impaired from an auto-immune disorder. If the body is already challenged and your blood sugar levels are high, your brain will be far more likely to have issues like brain fog, cognitive decline and dementia.
Just like a car, if it’s breaking down to begin with and you put poor quality fuel in, it’s not going to go anywhere at all.
What I want to touch on, is reading labels. There’s a lot to discuss here, but it’s important to understand the different ways that sugar is displayed on food labels.
You see terms like total carbohydrates, fiber, sugar and other carbohydrates. There are a lot of unanswered questions associated with big gaps. Companies tend to only report the things that they are required to put on the label.
The thing to look at is the fiber. The amount of fiber in a food is critically important. The higher the better.
Sugars on a label include naturally occurring sugars and sugars that have been added.
Other carbohydrates, if they’re listed. If they’re not listed that’s usually the amount that’s missing when you add up all the other carbohydrates for the total carbs. This includes complex sugars, starches, thickening agents, stabilizers and sugar-alcohols.
All that fits into other carbohydrates. By and large they will not impact your blood sugar like fiber and sugar.
The greater the difference between the total carbohydrates and the sugar, the better the food is.
If you look at two cereals. One might have a total carbohydrates of 35 grams. You look at little bit further, you see 9 grams of fiber and 10 of sugar. So that means 19 of those 35 grams are added sugar and dietary fiber. The gap between them is the starches and other things that don’t impact blood sugar.
If you look at a sweeter cereal, like I used to eat when I was a kid. The total carbohydrates at 24 grams. But you go ahead and look 1 gram of fiber and 15 grams of sugar. There’s only a difference of 9.
The previous cereal even though it has total carbs of 35 it has more fiber and less sugar. It contains better carbohydrates and fiber than the second cereal.
This is really important, because reading total carbohydrates can be deceiving, and you need to factor in the fiber.
When you become good at reading labels, it took me a while to understand it. You really have to do your research and homework. The information is out there for you to find.
We need to limit total sugar intake.
Links for this episode:
Dr. Trayford recommends John Ratey’s excellent book on exercise: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
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