The Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease

Diabetes and Alzheimer's DiseaseDiabetes occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin or use the insulin it makes properly. Insulin is a hormone that controls glucose level and sugar amounts in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body and is important for all necessary functions. There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes, which is a temporary diabetes that can occur during pregnancy.

Recent research has shown that in Alzheimer’s patients, glucose is not utilized properly in the brains of those affected. The glucose differences in those with Alzheimer’s might be caused by nerve cell death, which decreases the brain’s ability to interpret messages. A study at Stanford School of Medicine revealed how the brains of people with the disease show a buildup of beta amyloid plaque, which has also been shown to prevent insulin receptors in the brain from functioning normally. This can cause brain cells to become less responsive to insulin.

Alzheimer’s disease could be seen as a “type 3 diabetes.” A new study done by researchers at Albany University in New York showed that Alzheimer’s may be the late stage of type 2 diabetes. Those with type 2 diabetes produce extra insulin that could get into the brain, disturbing brain chemistry and causing toxic proteins to form. The protein found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients and those with type 2 diabetes is the same, the amyloid protein.

Another recent study published in the journal Neurology found that those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop brain “tangles” called Tau tangles that are usually seen in those with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that those with type 2 diabetes were more likely to have the brain tangles, even if they didn’t show any signs of memory loss or dementia.

Type 2 diabetes can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and there are many similarities between the brains of those with diabetes and those with Alzheimer’s disease. Some with diabetes may develop dementia, but many will not. Cardiovascular problems are also associated with diabetes  such as obesity, circulation problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We must be reminded to live a healthy lifestyle that is good for both our heart and our brain. Eating a healthy diet that is rich in vitamin D, folate and B6 and B12 vitamins is important as is exercising both the mind and body regularly.