I’ve been watching a progression of studies over the past several months which examine the relationship of diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease.
An article on WebMD states, “Diabetes and Other Insulin Issues at Age 50 May Predict Alzheimer’s Disease Decades Later.” The article is based on a study led by Elina Ronnemaa, MD, of Sweden’s Uppsala University.
The study included 2,322 men in Sweden who underwent glucose testing at age 50 to provide a baseline test for diabetes. Following the men for up to 35 years, 102 of them were diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s disease, 57 with vascular dementia and 235 with other dementia or cognitive impairment.
Dr. Ronnemaa via press release:
“Our results suggest a link between insulin problems and the origins of Alzheimer’s disease and emphasize the importance of insulin in normal brain function. It’s possible that insulin problems damage blood vessels in the brain, which leads to memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed to identify the exact mechanisms.”
According to the CDC, nearly 24 million people have diabetes in the United States alone. Furthermore, “another 57 million people are estimated to have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts people at increased risk for diabetes.”
The American Diabetes Association offers the following resources:
Are you at risk for diabetes? (Free interactive risk calculator)
Do Diabetics have a different form of dementia than others?
Reuters published an article detailing a study suggesting there may be two separate paths to dementia.
Suzanne Craft of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound in Washington worked on the study which is published in the Archives of Neurology.
She found that diabetics with dementia, notably those who took insulin, “had injuries to small blood vessels in the brain known as arterioles and more swelling in nerve tissue.”
Non-diabetics suffering from the disease differed in that they “had an excess of sticky clumps in the brain known as beta-amyloid plaques.”
Most of the participants in the study had Alzheimer’s which is the most common form of dementia.
The study noted that diabetic subjects with dementia who were not being treated with insulin showed the same beta-amyloid plaques that the non-diabetic patients exhibited.
The findings are interesting because they offer insight to the causes and paths of dementia, and perhaps hold a key to creating new forms of treatment.
Can Insulin help protect your brain against Alzheimer’s?
Bolstering brain insulin signaling may protect the brain from the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
This is the finding of William Klein of Northwestern University, who worked on a study which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
William Klein via Reuters:
“In Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas isn’t making insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, your tissues are insensitive to insulin because of problems in the insulin receptor. Type 3 is where that insulin receptor problem is localized in the brain.”
Kline goes on to say that as we age, we see less effective insulin signaling which makes the brain a target of the toxins that cause Alzheimer’s.
The study also showed that the drug rosiglitazone (brand name Avandia), when used in conjunction with insulin, enhanced the protective effect.
Kline mentions that healthy diet and exercise – which can help prevent diabetes – are also essential for the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
So, what does all this mean?
According to the International Diabetes Foundation, diabetes affects 246 million people worldwide, and diabetics have been shown to have a higher incidence rate of Alzheimer’s than non-diabetics.
Work with your doctor to develop a diet and exercise plan that fits you and your health history, and if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, talk to your doctor about your treatment plan and have a discussion about what these studies mean for you.
The findings are early and much more research is still needed, but opening a dialog about treatment options is important.
There currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, only medications which delay symptoms.
What are your thoughts on these studies? Do you know of other studies which might benefit this discussion?
Note: All sources are linked within the article, but for ease, here are the three studies with links.
Photo Source: MarkHatfield