Brain diabetes: the ultimate food scare
03 September 2012
Magazine issue 2880. Subscribe and save
For similar stories, visit the Food and Drink and The Human Brain Topic Guides
Big trouble lies ahead if Alzheimer's is proven to be a form of diabetes
THE human brain evolved to seek out foods high in fat and sugar. But a preference that started out as a survival mechanism has, in our age of plenty, become a self-destructive compulsion.
It is well known that bad diets can trigger obesity and diabetes. There is growing evidence that they trigger Alzheimer's disease too, and some researchers now see it as just another form of diabetes (see "Food for thought: Eat your way to dementia").
If correct, this has enormous, and grave, implications. The world already faces an epidemic of diabetes. The prospect of a parallel epidemic of Alzheimer's is truly frightening, in terms of human suffering and monetary cost.
This outcome will not be easily averted. Few people need to be told that too much high-fat, high-sugar food is a health hazard. And yet sales of fast food remain healthy (or should that be hefty?). Part of the reason is "future discounting", another evolved feature of the human brain that makes us value short-term rewards over long-term risks.
What can be done? One option is to call in the lawyers. Some moderately successful attempts have already been made to sue food companies for their role in creating the obesity epidemic. If a causal link between fatty, sugary food and Alzheimer's can be established, it is highly likely that more lawsuits will follow. Such actions have their place, but this is a laborious and expensive way to enact change.