Most of us know at least one person affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, an irreversible and progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memories and thinking skills. An estimated 6.2 million people in the U.S. are living with the illness, so it’s no wonder the race to find a cure is being run at a gallop.

Scientists have concentrated on beta amyloid plaque buildup in the brain as the cause of this devastating disease. But there’s a catch: just breaking down clumps of plaque doesn’t seem to restore brain function. A Brigham Young University study may signal a turn in thinking and a different road to treatment — metabolic dysfunction as a key to developing Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s Disease is increasingly being referred to as insulin resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes is an example of a disease caused by metabolic dysfunction. With type 2 diabetes, the way the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) is impaired, and this leads to abnormally high blood sugar levels, which in turn affect the circulatory, nervous and immune systems.

Scientists found that changes in diet such as cutting way back on sugary and processed foods and eating ketone-rich foods such as fatty fish, green leafy veggies, avocados, yogurt and nuts; and lifestyle changes, such as exercising and limiting stress, can slow or stop the progress of type 2 diabetes in its tracks; in some cases even reversing it.

The same may be true for the connection between metabolic dysfunction of the brain and Alzheimer’s. As the study’s senior author, Benjamin Bikman, a professor of physiology and developmental biology at Brigham Young, remarks: “Alzheimer’s Disease is increasingly being referred to as insulin resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes.”

How did researchers make this connection? That’s the tricky part. The scientists examined 240 brains post-mortem for RNA cellular sequences impacted by Alzheimer’s. They focused on both glucose and ketolytic metabolisms. A healthy brain works on a hybrid system of both these metabolisms. Researchers discovered glucose metabolism was impaired in the brains of deceased Alzheimer patients.

“We’ve turned the hybrid engine of our brains into a mono-fuel system that just fails to thrive,” Bikman explained. ”The inability to use glucose increases the value of ketones. However, because the average person is eating insulin-spiking foods so frequently, there’s never any ketones available to the brain.” We can blame the commercial food chain with its processed and sugar-laden foods for creating this problem and ourselves for eating diets full of them.

This isn’t the first time that researchers have made the connection between glucose, ketones and Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is the first time it’s been shown to happen on a cellular level. Considering the mounting evidence that processed and sugar-laden foods, as well as a sedentary lifestyle, may be detrimental to our brain function, it’s a good idea to get moving and eat healthier.

The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.