Is There a Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s?

link between diabetes and alzheimer's

Science is pointing us to the revelation that there is in fact a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. This link is so strong that researchers are even referring to it as “type 3 diabetes.” Here is what you need to know.

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s: What Are They?

To understand this link, we first must go over a few definitions.

According to the CDC, more than 100 million Americans live with diabetes or prediabetes.1

Diabetes is a disease where body cannot process glucose correctly, and blood sugar becomes too high.  If left untreated, the excess blood sugar damages the organs including the brain over time.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t make the insulin needed because the immune system attacks it and destroys the cells that produce insulin.

Insulin is a natural hormone that helps convert blood glucose (sugar) into energy.

While Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle related disease attributable to lack of exercise and being overweight.

Currently, around 5.8 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s.2 Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. It is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease, but an overall term to describe the symptoms associated with decline in memory and other thinking skills that impede on a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s causes 60-80% of all dementia cases.3

Proof of the Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Like with diabetes, research has found that glucose is not used correctly in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. In addition, what are known as Beta amyloid plaques build up in the brain of anyone with Alzheimer’s which causes the brain cells to become insensitive to insulin.

What they have found suggests that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s are often in a diabetic state. Research has concluded that “the term ‘type 3 diabetes’ accurately reflects the fact that [Alzheimer’s disease] represents a form of diabetes that selectively involves the brain and has molecular and biochemical features that overlap with both type 1 diabetes mellitus and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”45

To break down the research a bit, the Alzheimer’s Association has put into simple terms how high blood sugar or insulin can harm the brain:

  • “Diabetes raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, which hurt the heart and blood vessels.
  • Damaged blood vessels in the brain may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The brain depends on many different chemicals, which may be unbalanced by too much insulin. Some of these changes may help trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
  • High blood sugar causes inflammation. This may damage brain cells and help Alzheimer’s to develop.”6

It’s important to note that while having type-2 diabetes puts you at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s, it does not mean that everyone with type-2 diabetes will get the disease. Other factors play into it including genetics– those with family who have Alzheimer’s are more likely to have it.

What Can You Do?

Now that you know of the link, you can work to reduce your risk of diabetes. While this doesn’t guarantee you won’t develop Alzheimer’s, it does lower your risk. The best thing you can do is make lifestyle changes including:

  • Exercise: Plan to exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week
  • Keep Sugar Intake Low: Since sugar is directly related to belly fat7 , become aware of how much sugar you eat. Use a food tracker such as My Fitness Pal for 2 weeks. You may be surprised!7
  • Eat Right: Eat a healthy diet that includes foods rich in vitamin D, B6, B12, and folate
  • Get Regular Checkups: Many Americans don’t even know they have diabetes or prediabetes. The first step is to have your blood sugar levels checked so, if there’s a problem, you can start getting it under control.

1. New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes
2. Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures
3. What Is Dementia?
4. Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes–Evidence Reviewed
5. The 20-Year Voyage Aboard the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: Docking at ‘Type 3 Diabetes’, Environmental/Exposure Factors, Pathogenic Mechanisms, and Potential Treatments
6. Alzheimer’s Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
7. Is There ‘One Trick’ to Losing Belly Fat?

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