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Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Uncovering the Link between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Recent studies have suggested that there is a close link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In fact, this unique connection that has been uncovered by researchers indicates that spike in sugar levels can cause loss of memory in people.

On World Alzheimer’s Day, we tell you all about this condition and how elevated sugar levels can become a cause for Alzheimer’s.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s are progressive conditions in nature. However, unlike diabetes which can be managed if appropriately treated, treatments for Alzheimer’s can help in getting temporary respite. The treatments can, however, improve or slow the rate of decline, nut not cure it.

Alzheimer’s is a condition that causes brain cells to degenerate or waste away and die. It is the most common cause of dementia – a condition where the body experiences a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills and making it unable to function independently. 

One of the common signs of this condition is forgetting things, conversations, or events. This can even be recent in nature. Here are some other signs of Alzheimer’s:

– Memory Loss

memory loss - Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

It is generally normal to occasionally have memory lapses. However, this can be a sign of Alzheimer’s if a person is unable to recognize his/her friend. People that develop the condition might repeat questions or statements over, forget conversations, get lost in familiar places, forget the names of their loved ones, and more.

– Difficulty in concentration

difficulty in concentration - Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s can affect everyday thinking and concentration. It can cause difficulty in doing multiple tasks at the same time, especially with calculations. 

– Unable to make the right judgements

unable to make right judgements - Diabetes and Alzheimer's

A person experiencing Alzheimer’s may make unusual choices in social interactions. In fact, he/she may respond quite differently to normal situations than how a normal person would do.

– Changes in personality

changes in personality - Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

The changes in the brain cells can cause a change in personality. This may include:

➔ Social withdrawal

➔ Depression

➔ Wandering

➔ A sense of distrust for others

➔ Delusions

➔ Mood swings

Causes of Alzheimer’s

Studies have suggested that for most people, Alzheimer’s is a condition that is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. However, less than 1 per cent of the time, Alzheimer’s is caused by genetic changes. 

Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s has not been discovered, however, primarily, the condition develops when the brain proteins fail to function in the normal manner and disrupt the work brain cells to unleash a series of toxic events. This causes a loss of neurons to lose connection with each other and eventually die.

Research has indicated the role of the following two proteins in causing Alzheimer’s:

  • Plaques

Beta-amyloid is a fragment that is leftover of a larger protein. When such fragments cluster together, they disrupt cell communication and create a toxic environment. Such clusters, when formed in larger deposits, are called amyloid plaques which generally includes other cellular debris.

  • Tangles

Tau proteins play a crucial role in internally supporting neurons and transporting system to carry nutrients and other essential elements. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the tau proteins change their shape and form a structure called neurofibrillary tangles. These tangles can disrupt the function of the cells and become toxic for them.

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s: What is the link?

Recent studies and research on diabetes and Alzheimer’s have indicated impaired insulin in diabetes can be a cause for loss of cognitive thinking, mood, and metabolism. Although the conditions look indifferent to each other, diabetes and Alzheimers have a close link which is discussed below:

Type-1 Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

In the studies conducted to find the relation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, it was indicated that people with Type-1 diabetes are more likely to develop thinking and memory problems. In fact, it was said that people who are unable to produce insulin were 83 per cent more likely to develop dementia in comparison to senior people.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is unable to produce insulin due to the immune system attacking its own beta cells that produce the hormone. This leads to a spike in sugar levels. Likewise, in Alzheimer’s disease, the problem of insulin resistance persists, but the effects are localized in the brain.

Read more: Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes- The Association

Type-2 Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Although it was always suggested that there might be a link between both the conditions, the chances of loss in cognitive thinking were higher in Type-2 diabetes. Studies have found a larger number of people to have dementia and elevated sugar levels. In fact, it is suggested that people with Type 2 diabetes can develop Alzheimer’s disease by 65 per cent. One of the reasons for the link between both is overlapping biology. The molecules that play a role in using the glucose are also involved in the brain activities that use insulin. 

Although the research is still ongoing, it is also discovered that certain diabetes complications too can affect brain health.

– Diabetes often is linked to heart diseases. Elevated sugar levels in the bloodstream deteriorate the blood vessels that provide essential nutrients to the brain. 

– Excess of insulin can alter the number of neurochemicals reaching to the brain, thus increasing the chance of dementia

– Increase in sugar levels also cause inflammation in the cells leading to damage of brain cells too

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s: Is there Type-3 diabetes?

Although this might come as a surprise to see a different type of diabetes mentioned, Alzheimer’s disease and its connection to diabetes have evolved the nickname ‘Type 3 diabetes’. In fact, the American Diabetes Association has indicated that diabetes or prediabetes is one of the most significant risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. As mentioned above, the link is stronger in Type 2 diabetes than in Type 1 diabetes.

 However, when studies were conducted on brains after death, it was found that people with Alzheimer’s disease but no form of diabetes saw many abnormalities similar to the brains of diabetics. This lead to the conclusion that Alzheimer’s is a brain-specific type of diabetes, or often known as ‘Type-3 diabetes’.

 The connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s need to be more solidified with research and studies. However, if you are a diabetic, it is best to keep your sugar levels in check and talk to your educator. 

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