Diabetes

Diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's

If you’ve been systematically flicking through each of the risk factors in turn, you will have already read about the overlap in the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The cause of both diseases is linked to a lack of physical exercise and obesity. The subsequent damage this causes to the circulation system, heart and other organs, including the brain, has a serious impact on our risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In short, pre-diabetics have levels of sugar in their blood in excess of the normal range that predisposes them to develop full type 2 diabetes, where the body becomes insulin resistant causing the blood sugar level to rise to dangerous levels if left uncontrolled. High levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and low levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, are both unhealthy states for the body and have a significant impact on the brain and neurodegenerative processes.

Over the past 10 years or more, Alzheimer’s has often been referred to in the scientific literature as another form of diabetes – type 3 diabetes, due to the similarity between their molecular and pathological features, including reduced expression of insulin. Resistance to insulin in the brain has been estimated to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50% to 65%.

Researcher are investigating the potential of anti-diabetes drugs on Alzheimer’s due to the correlation of pathologies between the two diseases, including the discovery that many people with type 2 diabetes have deposits of amyloid-beta protein in their pancreas similar to those found in excess in an Alzheimer’s brain.

The papers below include discussion on these common mechanisms between Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes, and also a review paper discussing the evidence for claiming Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes:

There are many lifestyle choices that can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and therefore putting yourself at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life, not to mention other chronic and potentially terminal diseases. Smoking for example has a major impact on the body’s circulation system so it becomes harder for the heart to pump blood to much needed regions of the body, including the brain.

Consider making the following changes in your lifestyle to minimise your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s:

  • If you smoke, make sure you quit

  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet that is protein and vegetable-rich and with less processed foods and refined sugar

  • Regular physical and aerobic exercise to maintain a healthy body weight

  • Control your blood pressure

  • Reduce your risk of CVD as it has many risk factors common with diabetes including obesity and physical inactivity

  • Get regular medical check-ups for blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The Alzheimer’s Society has put together an excellent brochure that outlines helpful ways to reduce your dementia risk. Download your free copy now.