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Alzheimer's Disease and Diabetes

Jun 11, 2014

I was reading a brochure last week trying to figure out how I could attend a major conference in Boston when one of the presentation topics caught my eye – “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” Whoa…Did I read that right? Since my budget made it very doubtful I could attend and listen to the presentation in person, I decided to do more investigation.

The American Diabetes Association states that 27% of American people over the age of 65 have diabetes and about half (that would be 50% - which is a LOT) have prediabetes.  I interpret that as – for every couple, one of them will have pre-diabetes after age 65. That is scary.

There are a number of studies showing that people with diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes (T2D), have a lower level of cognitive function and are at an increased risk of dementia than those without diabetes.

We know that one of the biggest risk factors for Alzheimer’s is having T2D.  But to say that Alzheimer’s IS Type 3 – that is a new one for me.  As I found out in researching the topic, a number of studies are closing the connection between Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

In one example, a study published in 2005 out of Brown University, they identified the reason they think people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.  Their study showed that in this type of dementia, the part of the brain which is involved in learning and memory seemed to be insensitive to insulin.  (That sounds familiar).  They found that not only are your liver, muscle and fat cells resistant to insulin but it seemed, so is your brain.  When they fed animals a diet designed to give them T2D it left the animal’s brains riddled with a protein called beta-amyloid.  These beta-amyloid plaques are one of the key findings in Alzheimer’s.  It is also noted that insulin plays a key role in memory.  This study suggests that when you consider these 2 items, perhaps Alzheimer’s may be caused by a form of brain diabetes.

It is estimated that the number of people with diabetes is expected to rise from 382 million currently to 592 million over the next 25 years.   An article in New Scientist from 2012 reports that if the above is true, we should see an associated increase in Alzheimer’s over the same period.  If the beta-amyloid build-up can be stopped in people with T2D and their cognitive impairment reversed or delayed, perhaps many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s.

There is discussion that perhaps we should be looking for diabetes medications that work on the brain.   Researchers at UT Dallas are contemplating looking for a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s.  Past studies looking at using antibodies to treat Alzheimer’s all looked at those patients in the advanced stages.   UT Dallas reports that perhaps it would be better to inoculate those at high risk, which they now think are most likely people with T2D.

If you want to learn more, go to www.alz.org and search for diabetes.  There is much more information supporting these theories.

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