Sugar Does Rot Your Brain After All: Scientists Connect to Alzheimer's

Is Alzheimer's triggered by too much sugar? We have long known that consuming too much sugar is related to obesity and diabetes. A new UK study has found a molecular "tipping point," where a crucial enzyme related to insulin regulation is damaged by excess glucose. This may have a major impact on our understanding of the cognitive disease along with our diet.

 

 

Time to lower your sugar intake.


Scientists from the University of Bath have just found the first connection between excess blood sugar glucose and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers in this unprecedented study found what they describe as a molecular "tipping point," where a crucial enzyme related to inflammation response and insulin regulation is damaged by excess glucose. While the scientists involved do not make the direct assertion, the takeaway is Alzheimer's disease may be triggered by consuming too much sugar.

This potentially groundbreaking study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, could have major implications for our understanding of Alzheimer's and its relationship with our diet. Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative neurological condition that impacts 5.5 million Americans and an estimated 46 million people worldwide

While we have long known sugar's link to obesity and diabetes, our understanding of its relationship with Alzheimer's has been less studied. This latest research offers greater credence for Alzheimer's to be referred to as Type 3 Diabetes. Earlier studies have showcased a those with diabetes have a greater prevalence of Alzheimer's. 

How Did Researchers Establish This Link?

The scientists relied on donated brain tissue from both those with and without Alzheimer's. The brain tissue was provided by Brains for Dementia Research, a large brain bank network with a mission of advancing research into dementia. 

The brains of those who were in the early stages of Alzheimer's had the crucial enzyme MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) that was damaged. The enzyme, which is related to inflammation response and insulin regulation, was injured through a process called glycation. The researchers believe that the tipping point for Alzheimer's to progress may be when MIF is damaged through glycation. As Alzheimer's advances, so does the glycation of the MIF enzymes.

“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."-Professor Jean van den Elsen (University of Bath), commenting about the study in its press release

We Consume a Lot of Added Sugars in Our Diet

The average American drinks about 38 gallons of soda each year. A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains around 14 1/2 teaspoons of added sugar. As nutritionists have been arguing for years, we are consuming too much sugar. The heighten blood sugar level (hyperglycemia) from our consumption of soda and other sugary items has already been clearly established as increasing the likelihood of obesity and diabetes. 

This latest research has uncovered the specific molecular link between glucose and Alzheimer's. So forget the extra pounds from drinking too much soda and eating too many donuts: sugar may be truly rotting your brain

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Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

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Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
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Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

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The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


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Image: NASA
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An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."