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Exploring the Connection Between Mental Acuity and Glucose

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a girl looking up at the sky

Can’t remember where you put your keys? If you turned off the oven? Locked the door on your way out? A decrease in your mental acuity could be the cause of this.

Mental acuity is the ability to focus, learn, and recall information. It is often associated with cognitive skills and mental sharpness that enable effective functioning in various intellectual tasks.

In order to have optimal mental acuity, your brain needs to have the fuel required to function properly. Glucose is that energy source for our brain—the gasoline for your thinking machine.

So what happens if your brain has an inappropriate amount of glucose to function? How does this impact your mental acuity and cognitive performance over time? Let’s find out!

What is Mental Acuity?

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Acuity is the ability to see, hear, and think accurately and clearly. Mental acuity, in turn, refers to the ability to process information, memory, pay attention, and the ability to make appropriate decisions based on the information provided.

A person with high mental acuity is likely to have quick and clear thinking, a strong ability to focus, and good cognitive performance. A person with suboptimal or low mental acuity may struggle with focus and perform poorly on tasks. 

Factors that can contribute to impact mental acuity include:

  • Genetics
  • Diet and lifestyle habits
  • Disease-related factors
  • Demographic and social factors
  • Environmental factors

Your brain is responsible for several important aspects of living, and works as the control center for your heartbeat and breathing. It’s also responsible for things like reasoning, memory, judgment, focus, and attentiveness.

Why is Mental Acuity Important?

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Mental acuity impacts your cognition, ability to learn, ability to complete tasks, and more.

Improved Productivity and Performance 

Enhanced mental acuity, or having a sharper mind can allow for quick decision-making and analytical thinking. It can allow you to focus on your daily tasks, have a better memory, and be more productive. 

Reduced Risk of Cognitive Decline

You can keep your mental acuity sharp by keeping your brain active—and this becomes especially important for older adults. Continual learning and mental challenges promote the formation of new neural connections, which can prevent age-related cognitive decline and maintain your brain plasticity. 

A study in 2023 found that people who regularly participated in mental acuity tasks were nine to 11 percent less likely to develop dementia. Physical exercise is another way to prevent a decline in mental acuity and cognition. 

Greater Independence and Quality of Life

A sharp mind is essential for being able to function independently. From little things such as tying your shoes to bigger tasks such as driving a car and managing your finances, all require optimum mental acuity. Supporting your brain as you age is critical for independent living.

What is the Relationship Between Glucose and the Brain?

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Glucose is the main energy source for every cell in your body but it is vital for brain cells. Your brain is made up of nerve cells (neurons) that rely on a continuous supply of glucose in order to send signals or messages to other nerve cells and other parts of the body.

The brain is highly metabolically active, meaning that it requires a lot of fuel, and a significant portion of the body's glucose is utilized by the brain to support its various functions.

How are Glucose and Mental Acuity Connected?

Maintaining stable glucose in your brain is essential for cognitive functioning. When glucose levels are adequate, the brain can efficiently carry out cognitive functions such as critical thinking and problem-solving. But what happens to your mental acuity when your glucose levels frequently fluctuate into abnormal ranges?

Fluctuations in blood sugar levels, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), can negatively impact cognitive function, attention, and memory. Low glucose in the bloodstream, for example, can lead to cognitive impairment and even neurological symptoms like slurred speech, confusion, and blurred vision.

At the same time, research indicates that type 2 diabetes mellitus is linked with memory impairments, neurodegeneration (a gradual loss of brain cells), and other types of cognitive dysfunction

When it comes to mental acuity, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, including carbohydrates that provide a steady supply of glucose, to support cognitive function and overall brain health.

Neurotransmitter Function

The neurons in your brain are constantly active; therefore your brain needs a constant supply of glucose—even while sleeping. Once the glucose is in the brain, it is converted into a neurotransmitter called adenosine triphosphate (ATP)

ATP is needed for learning, thinking, and memory. If there isn’t enough glucose to feed the brain, or if there are dips in the glucose levels in the brain, ATP levels drop and brain function may be impacted. 

Blood Sugar Fluctuations

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As we mentioned earlier, high glycemic variability can have negative effects on your mental acuity or cognitive performance. For example, when your blood sugar is too high, you may experience headaches or feel hyper. When the blood sugar is too low, you may experience symptoms such as feeling foggy, lightheaded, or even have trouble walking.

Over time, this impaired glucose metabolism can result in cognitive dysfunction and can be a risk factor for glucose intolerance and prediabetes.

Other Factors That Can Affect Mental Acuity

factors that can affect mental acuity

There are other personal issues and lifestyle choices that can impact your mental acuity. Some of these issues can be changed but some cannot. 

Aging

Aging can impact cognition. This can be mild such as forgetting where you put your keys, or in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, this can be severe. Memory and processing information may become more challenging as you age. However, living a healthy lifestyle can decrease the rate of cognitive decline as we age. 

Stress

Everyone experiences different types of stress at some point in their lives and we all process it differently. Mild stress can actually enhance cognition—there have been several studies showing that mild stress among college students helps them perform better on exams.

However, chronic stress, which is a prolonged or consistent state of stress that can negatively impact your health, can also have a detrimental effect on cognition. A study in 2023 found that chronic stress or perceived chronic stress leads to an increase in cognitive decline and poor memory.

Lifestyle Choices

Your dietary choices and lifestyle habits can contribute to worsening cognitive function and affect mental health. A sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to poor cognition. Regular physical activity has numerous health benefits including a better functioning brain.

Tips to Optimize Your Blood Sugar Levels for Better Cognitive Function

tips for optimizing glucose and cognitive fuction

There are a number of lifestyle improvements you can make that can support better cognition and mental acuity. The following tips can help you keep your blood sugar levels stabilized and within the normal ranges:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Limiting your intake of ultra-processed foods and added sugars
  • Getting appropriate levels of exercise
  • Staying hydrated
  • Practicing mindful eating
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Reducing high levels of stress

Eating a balanced diet that includes unprocessed foods, whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help keep a steady stream of glucose available for your brain to convert to energy. 

In addition to this, making other healthy lifestyle adjustments such as exercising regularly can help keep your blood glucose levels within the normal ranges. Effective stress management can also help keep glucose levels steady throughout the day. 

By implementing these tips to support optimal blood sugar levels, you can proactively enhance your overall well-being and promote better cognitive performance.

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Reviewed by: Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Victoria began her career in the functional medicine space in 2015. She has extensive experience interpreting labs and supporting weight loss, gut imbalances, and chronic migraines. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics from Missouri State University.