Evidence points to a link between high sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s risk. Managing your sugar intake earlier in life could help reduce your risk.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that can affect your ability to think, remember, and perform daily activities. It’s the most common form of dementia in older people, but you may begin to develop biological markers of Alzheimer’s as early as your 30s.

Researchers have found a link between sugar and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The link also applies to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes.

How much sugar you eat may affect your risk or speed up the arrival of symptoms. But sometimes, a little sugar might help people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s what you need to know to lower your risk.

High sugar intake and high blood sugar levels can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

One of the reasons is that too much sugar can cause inflammation. This can lead to many chronic conditions, including dementias like Alzheimer’s.

Recent studies have highlighted the link between high sugar levels and Alzheimer’s.

A 2022 study with 37,689 people found a link between high sugar intake and increased Alzheimer’s risk among women.

Those who consumed about 10 grams (2.4 teaspoons) of sugar per day had the largest risk increase. Lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products, had the strongest link to Alzheimer’s among the sugar types studied.

High blood sugar from diabetes is also a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. It can promote the growth of amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s. And while researchers once thought this was true for mostly older adults, they now find that the risk can begin earlier.

A 2022 study with 4,932 people found that the link between Alzheimer’s, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol can begin as early as age 35. Researchers followed the participants over decades. They found that managing cholesterol and blood sugar levels early may help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later.

A smaller 2022 study also showed that higher blood sugar levels over a period as short as 1 year can affect Alzheimer’s and dementia risk.

The study included 105 people who were cognitively healthy at the start of the study. Researchers found that as fasting blood sugar levels rose, people developed more brain imaging markers of cognitive decline, regardless of body weight and insulin differences.

Finally, a 2017 study also found increased markers for Alzheimer’s in people who consumed higher amounts of sugary beverages and fruit juice.

One limitation of the study was that participants were mostly white, so the results may not reflect the larger population.

Eating too much sugar, especially if you have diabetes, can speed up dementia development. That means symptoms may show up sooner.

Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • trouble with memory
  • having difficulty problem-solving
  • mood and personality changes
  • poor hygiene
  • social withdrawal

But small amounts of sugar may be helpful sometimes.

That’s because some people with later stages of Alzheimer’s may lose their appetite, making it hard to get the nutrition they need to stay healthy.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests adding a little sugar or salt to make food more appealing and help with nutritional intake.

Some people may need to follow diets that drastically reduce sugar and salt, so check with a doctor before adding more.

One practical approach to reducing sugar intake is limiting or eliminating sugary beverages. Research has found a direct link between sugary beverages and increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

For instance, a 2021 study that followed 1,865 people over 16 years found a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, all types of dementia, and stroke in people who consumed the most sugar, especially in the form of drinks.

Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet include:

  • cutting back on table sugar and sweeteners like syrup, molasses, and honey
  • reducing the amount you add by half and then decreasing from there
  • replacing sugar with spice or extracts
  • comparing nutrition labels and choosing products with less added sugar
  • reducing the amount of sugar in recipes or swapping it out with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce
  • avoiding fruit packaged in syrup or rinsing and draining it in a colander
  • choosing fresh, dried, or frozen fruit when possible

Here are some answers to questions you may have about sugar and Alzheimer’s disease.

Can people with dementia eat sugar?

Limiting sugar intake is good for overall health because eating too much sugar can contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

That said, sugar isn’t bad in moderation. It might even help people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.

That’s because your sense of smell and taste may decrease and make many foods seem less appealing. You may have problems chewing or swallowing, or a depressed mood may make you feel less like eating. A little sugar might make food more inviting.

Why do people with Alzheimer’s crave sweets?

Some people with Alzheimer’s experience a loss of taste and smell, which makes food less tasty. They may start craving sweet foods and intense flavors to make up for the loss.

They may also have anxiety or depression, and eating sweets boosts feel-good chemicals for a short time.

Some medications may also cause cravings for sweets.

Can other dietary changes reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s?

Research suggests that what you eat may positively or negatively affect how you think and remember. Certain kinds of diets, like the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet, may have a positive effect on your brain.

Researchers are studying other diets in clinical trials. So far, there’s not much evidence that supplements or individual foods can help prevent dementia.

Researchers have found evidence that high sugar intake, as well as the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes, can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The risk may be more significant for women.

One way to reduce your risk is to reduce your sugar consumption.

High sugar intake may also worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms in people with the disease. But if a loved one is having difficulty eating enough, experts say you can consider adding a little sugar to make food more appealing.