Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Could diabetes be a cause of Alzheimer’s? The two diseases, while both very common are seemingly unrelated.  Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder in which harmful plaques build up in the brain, causing memory loss and cognitive deficits.  Diabetes, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas fails to produce insulin, leading to high blood sugar.  New research points to high blood sugar itself as being a potential cause for Alzheimer’s.

In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, when mice were injected with glucose, they ended up having 20% more amyloid plaques than control mice.  So what is a possible explanation for this?  The researchers propose that high blood glucose levels led to higher brain activity, which led these mice to produce more amyloid plaques.  Because these mice were genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s, would this only happen in people who have a predisposition for the disease?  The researchers did not clarify, but seeing as diabetes is such a common disease and obviously most people with diabetes do not develop Alzheimer’s, there must be some genetic component.  My guess is that high blood sugar simply speeds up the process for people who already have it.

In the second part of the experiment, they gave mice diabetes medications.  In these conditions, the mice produced amyloid at a normal rate, indicating further that it was the high blood sugar likely causing this.  If this isn’t another motivation for people to manage their diabetes then I don’t know what is.

This article instantly caught my eye because a little while ago I read an article in Discover about Alzheimer’s in which they claimed that people on diabetes medications have Alzheimer’s that progresses slower, but they never gave an explanation.  In addition, I have family members with Type 1 diabetes, and they are always very careful to manage their blood sugar levels to prevent some of the more common complications of diabetes, such as blindness.  This research just adds another motivation.


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