A recent study proposes that Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to an innate instinct that relies on fructose in the brain, which triggers foraging behavior. This suggests that diet could play a role in the development of the disease, as persistent consumption of fructose may activate brain activity leading to neuronal death and the accumulation of pathological proteins.
“We make the case that Alzheimer’s disease is driven by diet,” said Richard Johnson, the lead author of a recent study. The study suggests that Alzheimer’s disease could be linked to fructose metabolism in the brain. Johnson explains that “chronic and persistent reduction in cerebral metabolism driven by recurrent fructose metabolism leads to progressive brain atrophy and neuron loss with all of the features of [Alzheimer’s].”
The study is based on the idea that when humans are low on food, a foraging instinct kicks in, which stimulates the brain into foraging for food to supplement our dietary needs. Fructose powers this dampening. As fructose is metabolized, the foraging instinct is increased, and we can continue to look for resources. The researchers believe that our brains may have become stuck in the “on” position, with constant fructose metabolism resulting in inflammation.
The study urges for significantly more investigation into any fructose-Alzheimer’s disease links. However, the researchers state that fructose metabolism is linked to reduced blood flow to areas of the brain involved in self-control, while it increases blood going to the food reward area, further boosting the foraging response. Fructose in the brain has also been linked to the buildup of Alzheimer’s-related proteins.
“A study found that if you keep laboratory rats on fructose long enough, they get tau and amyloid beta proteins in the brain, the same proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease. You can find high fructose levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s as well,” Johnson added.
The authors of the study believe that “much attention has focused on the acute survival responses to hypoxia and starvation. However, nature has developed a clever way to protect animals before the crisis actually occurs.” The idea is that when humans are low on food, a foraging instinct kicks in to get them to focus on the important things. Impulsivity and risk-taking goes up, and our memories and time-keeping get suppressed while our brain rations resources.
Johnson explained: “We believe that initially the fructose-dependent reduction in cerebral metabolism in these regions was reversible and meant to be beneficial. But chronic and persistent reduction in cerebral metabolism driven by recurrent fructose metabolism leads to progressive brain atrophy and neuron loss with all of the features of [Alzheimer’s].”
If further data supports this research, it could help change therapeutics and guide dietary guidelines in the future. The study suggests that too much fructose can lead to some big problems, and therefore, it is essential to keep our fructose levels in check. However, this is very early research and requires more investigation before conclusions can be made.