People with Type 2 diabetes (90% of diabetics) have about twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to people with normal sugar metabolism. The link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has become even stronger with a study published in the July 2016 Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
The Diabetologia article, concluded that, in some cases, the toxic changes in the brain found in people with AD might lead to changes in the pancreas and peripheral tissues ending up as diabetes. This is the opposite of what has been traditionally believed—that failure in the pancreas and peripheral tissues (that become less sensitive to the action of insulin) leads to diabetes. This disease then somehow promotes the deposit of the amyloid tangles in the brain of people with AD.
The authors describe a gene that appears to increase the production of toxic proteins in the brain, as well as diabetic changes in the peripheral organs. Dr. Bettina Platt, the lead researcher in the study, says:
“Many people are unaware of the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the fact is that around 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have some form of diabetes or disturbed glucose metabolism….”
Some experts have even described AD as one form of diabetes itself, and have referred to AD as “Type 3 diabetes”. The good news is that preventing diabetes seems to decrease the risk of developing dementia and AD later in life. The new research also suggests that drugs used for diabetic management might diminish the pathology found in AD.
Diabetic medication to treat Alzheimer’s disease
Dr. Platt continues, “We now think some of the compounds that are used for obesity and diabetic deregulation might potentially be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients as well. The good news is there are a number of new drugs available right now which we are testing to see if they would reverse both Alzheimer’s and diabetes symptoms.”
One such drug now being tested, in over 200 patients in the UK, is liraglutide. Subjects are injecting a small amount of liraglutide daily, with the hope that beyond controlling their sugar metabolism, that they will show improved brain function as well. If the trails prove successful, this drug could be the first new type of AD drug developed in the past decade, and be available for widespread use within 5 years.
Preventing Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes
For the meantime, the research suggests that living in a healthy way— to avoid diabetes or pre-diabetes—is one of the best ways to help avoid developing AD. This means earing a healthy balanced diet, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control, not smoking, and keeping mentally and physically active. This is the best way to keep our brain in good shape as we age.
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