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April 09, 2019

Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes: What’s the link?

You’ve heard of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but did you know there is a third? Alzheimer’s disease has become known as Type 3 diabetes, and with good reason. Researchers have found diabetes — specifically the insulin resistance that happens with Type 2 diabetes — and Alzheimer’s to be linked. 

How are Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes Connected?

High blood sugar, which could signal insulin resistance, can damage the body. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to the development of diabetes, which can cause further damage. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, high blood sugar can damage your brain by:

  • Raising your risk of heart disease and stroke, both of which can affect the blood vessels which lead to your brain.
  • Unbalancing the chemicals your brain depends on to function
  • Causing inflammation, which may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s

Researchers who studied the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients found that people who did not have diabetes had many of the same abnormalities in their brains as people who did. Specifically, people with Alzheimer’s who did not have diabetes had reduced levels of insulin in their brains.

Furthermore, a different group of researchers examined a collection of studies and found the brain function of people with Alzheimer’s declined in their ability to metabolize glucose, which preceded or coincided with cognitive decline. As the insulin functioning in the brain worsens, researchers found the size and structure of the brain also declines. All of the above happenings also occur as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. But, it’s important to note that while Type 2 diabetes appears to contribute to and exacerbate the development of Alzheimer’s, it is not the sole cause of the disease. 

Who is Most at Risk for Developing Type 2 Diabetes?

Your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes depends on a combination of factors:

  • Having prediabetes, or blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough for diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Being over age 45
  • Having high cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • Being African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, Hispanic or Pacific Islander
  • Having a history of heart disease or stroke
  • Being inactive 

Reducing Your Risk

The important thing to keep in mind is that Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or reversed. By reducing your risk, you lower your chance of developing complications like stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Following your healthcare team’s recommendations for controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat meats and dairy.
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week

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