Excessive Sugar Intake Associated With Increased Risk Of Alzheimer’s Disease

Drawing of patient with dementia (Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's Disease)talking to another person. In pen and ink.
Alzheimer's Disease. Image by geralt, c/o Pixabay.

High sugar intake regularly receives a poor press and this isn’t helped with a recent study into its effects on the progression of a severe neurological disease from the University of Bath and King’s College, London. Research suggests that people who follow high sugar diets are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s Disease amongst other well-documented conditions.

Alzheimer’s accounts for 62 per cent of all diagnosed cases of dementia in the UK and over 70 per cent in Australia. Globally, 46 million people are affected by the disease which involves abnormal proteins aggregating to form ‘plaque’ and ‘tangles’ in the brain and severely impairing function. The researchers at Bath identified what is termed a ‘tipping point’, a specific link between high blood sugar levels and the progressive degenerative neurological condition.

It appears excessive glucose levels damage a specific enzyme which is involved in inflammation in the early phase of the disease. The enzyme known as macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is damaged by a reaction called glycation which involves the binding of glucose units in this case to the enzyme which stops it performing. MIF is an enzyme involved in the immune response and insulin regulation. The researchers consider inhibition and reduction of MIF activity as the “tipping point” in the disease’s progression and development. Glycation of this enzyme amongst other enzymes rises as Alzheimer’s takes increasing hold.

Glycation is often the situation for enzymes when people have higher than normal blood sugar levels or hyperglycaemia. This condition is characteristic of diabetes and obesity and whilst not stated by the researchers, is also implicated in Alzheimer’s. Diabetic patients have also been shown to be at risk of developing the neurological condition. It appears that the damage done by Alzheimer’s starts a decade or more before any cognitive decline is noticed.

What hadn’t been shown before was the link between the high glucose levels and Alzheimer’s through this particular reaction. The researchers looked at brain samples from people with and without Alzheimer’s. The researchers next want to examine similar changes occurring in blood.

Dr Omar Kassaar, from the University of Bath, stated:-

“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.”

The Dunhill Medical Trust funded the study. Human brain tissue was provided through Brains for Dementia Research, a joint initiative between Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK in association with the Medical Research Council.


Kassaar, O., Morais, M.P., Xu, S., Adam, E.L., Chamberlain, R.C., Jenkins, B., James, T., Francis, P.T., Ward, S., Williams, R.J. van den Elsen, . (2017) Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 42874 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep42874

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