Is There A Link Between Dementia And Diabetes?

As rates of diabetes continue to rise, we have to ask ourselves, is there a connection between this blood glucose disease and dementia? It’s no secret that the body and mind are connected, so could a condition of the body encourage cognitive decline?

The Lowdown On Diabetes

As we’re all aware, individuals can suffer from either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Since type 2 diabetes is generally associated with a poor diet and inactive lifestyle, it’s clear that this condition threatens one’s health. Often associated with obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension, these health issues could most certainly increase one’s risk of dementia.

A number of studies have identified type 2 diabetes as a possible risk factor, which is more than likely due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels. In fact, research has shown that like diabetes, the brains of Alzheimer’s patients do not properly utilize glucose as a key source of energy.

In the case of diabetes, insulin can no longer be produced or used efficiently by the body. While studying beta amyloid plaques — a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s, it’s been found that this build up can prevent insulin receptors from working within the brain. In that sense, it appears that there’s a clear connection between glucose levels and neural health.

Should Alzheimer’s Disease Be Called Type 3 Diabetes?

How diabetes truly influences dementia is still not fully clear. With that being said, recent research has found that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients showcase an almost ‘diabetic’ state. Although individuals with Alzheimer’s and individuals with diabetes share similarities, a diabetes diagnosis remains a risk factor — not a cause.

Although some diabetics will develop dementia, others will not. So, what’s the connection?

For starters, those who have diabetes and do not properly control their blood glucose levels, can expect to suffer from damaged organs, including the brain.

Within one key study, published in Neurology, it was found that type 2 diabetics are, in fact, more likely to develop the brain tangles associated with Alzheimer’s. Even if diabetics did not suffer from dementia or memory loss, an increase in brain tangles were apparent — based on higher levels of tau protein.

Diabetics also showed more thinning of the brain’s cortex. Meaning, although not all diabetics will go on to develop dementia, it’s clear that complications of this disease can lead to brain abnormalities and in some cases, lead to neurological decline. Of course, this does not demonstrate cause and effect, but there’s most certainly a connection.

Diabetes Drugs Have Been Shown to Treat Alzheimer’s

When it all boils down, researchers are after an effective cure. Although diabetes is treatable and patients can live a long and happy life, there is no cure. The same is true for cases of dementia, as no treatments have been developed that will reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s, for example.

Within a 2016 study, the use of diabetic drugs highlighted a new possible link. When using drugs to treat diabetes, it was apparent that they could also be used to treat Alzheimer’s, and vice versa. This has completely changed our opinion on the subject, as this study is the first of its kind.

What this essentially means, is that Alzheimer’s disease may lead to diabetes, as opposed to the other way around. It also means that both type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s are closely related. Published in Diabetologia, this study may have uncovered new truths.

For the first time, researchers believe that complications of dementia, ultimately lead to changes in glucose control. As stated by the lead author, “Most people are unaware of this relationship — but the truth is, approximately 80 percent of Alzheimer’s patients also suffer from some form of diabetes or poor glucose metabolism.”

Until now, it has been assumed that lifestyle choices lead to type 2 diabetes, which then leads to an increased risk of dementia. What this research shows, is that it can also work the other way around. Changes in the brain may also influence the development of diabetes.

On that note, the researchers believe that when aiming to improve the health of dementia patients, treatments used for diabetic deregulation and obesity may also benefit this neurodegenerative population. In that sense, studying one disease in relation to the other, may lead to significant advances.

As research continue to unfold, we will highlight these key findings, so that you can protect both you and your family. Starting today, in order to protect your brain and reduce your risk of diabetes, consume a balanced diet, manage stress, complete 30-minutes of light to moderate exercise daily, and achieve quality sleep.



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Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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