Images by Cayce Clifford

How to Manage Sugar for a Better Brain and a Longer Life

Colleen Cutcliffe, Ph. D.

New studies show your ability to metabolize sugar as the most important marker to healthy aging.

Images by Cayce Clifford
Photo by Clifford Sequoia

In this Episode of The Human Upgrade™...

…you’ll learn about emerging science that points to the effects of sugar on your gut microbiome and metabolism and the connections between sugar, your mental acuity and longevity.

Biochemist and molecular biologist Colleen Cutcliffe, Ph.D., continually searches for new ways to improve your gut health and help you live longer. As CEO and co-founder of Pendulum Therapeutics, she works to turn scientific discoveries into real products that hack and heal your microbiome and its associated body systems. At Pendulum, her team identifies and isolates new bacterial strains then combines those new strains to create unique probiotics.

“We really worked hard on ways to modulate post-postprandial glucose spikes through the microbiome,” Colleen says. The result? Pendulum’s Glucose Control lowers blood glucose spikes by 33 to 34% for people with type 2 diabetes. “What we didn’t realize was how many people who don’t have type 2 diabetes were going to end up benefiting from it.”

This conversation homes in on sugar management and a broad range of research that’s exploring what you can do about managing your glucose to keep up your mental acuity (less brain fog, sharper thinking) and live a longer life.

Science has discovered that as you age:

  • You have reduced ability to metabolize sugar.
  • Your microbiomes become less diverse and depleted of certain key strains that are important for sugar metabolism.
  • If you improve glucose control, you see reduced neuronal inflammation and improved cognition.

In the past decade, especially, sugar dominates a lot of the conversation around diet and health. It’s been studied, substituted, moderated, restricted and demonized. With that type of focus, you lose the bigger point. 

“There's two really big things. One is our metabolism. We all want our metabolism to stay as strong as it was when we were younger. And the other is our mental acuity.”

Colleen Cutcliffe, Ph.D.

“You can’t completely cut out sugar,” Colleen says. “You do need sugar. Not all sugar is bad for you all the time. Every cell in your body, except for your colon cells, need glucose in order to survive, in order to replicate, in order to perform functions. All of the things that allow you to be a human being require some amount of sugar. Maybe the question is, can you get enough of that just through the foods that you’re eating, and you don’t need the teaspoon of sugar in your coffee or the donut or the dessert? We haven’t evolved to have to consume large amounts of sugar.”

She wants you to know what’s happening to cause the change in metabolic processing as you age and what you can do about it, like:

  • How to understand your blood glucose range and what fluctuations mean.
  • How to track your blood glucose and what to do about peaks and dips.
  • How to improve your focus, sharpness and mental endurance through diet and fitness.

“I’m a scientist, so I’m always going to say more data is better,” Colleen explains. “[Especially] when you’re trying to make improvements and you’re making these micro-adjustments in your life, and you want to understand what impact are they having.”

More about Colleen Cutcliffe, Ph.D.:  Colleen has nearly 20 years of experience leading and managing biology teams in academia, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Before she started Pendulum, she was the senior manager of Biology at Pacific Biosciences and a scientist at Elan Pharmaceuticals. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins University and her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Wellesley College.

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  • One is our metabolism. We all want our metabolism to stay as strong as it was when we were younger. And the other, is our mental acuity.  – 2:59
  • If we took a human and we removed all of their gut bacteria, what would happen?  – 6:01
  • For pendulum, we really worked hard on how do you modulate those post postprandial glucose spikes through the microbiome.  – 11:17
  • Is there such a thing as good sugar? – 15:40
  • It’s interesting to think about what coffee is doing for your microbiome to actually help you also metabolize these sugars.  – 18:49
  • So, it does appear that there’s something in the microbiome that can help you alter your cravings.  – 25:22
  • So when people talk about healthy metabolism, generally, there’s three buckets, maybe four. – 29:31
  • Do you think that having a healthy gut biome as even a very young child is likely to contribute to long life?  – 35″23
  • There are a lot of things that shape the microbiome, deplete the microbiome that we don’t have control over and aging is one of them. Stress is another one. – 40:04
  • So it’s the perfect time to introduce the right gut bacteria and the right prebiotics on the tail end of an intermittent fast.  – 47:10
  • I do believe that in the future, if anybody wanted to have an initiative to find or create bacteria that could metabolize anything that you consume, it can be done.  – 51:40
  • But by making it available to consumers and everybody, that means that all the people who have prediabetes, who are worried about blood glucose spikes, who have diabetes that runs in their family.  – 56:06

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