Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are diminishing the health of many across the nation, increasingly affecting children as well, at an alarming rate.
And, though I’m sure you’ve heard of the ways that these factors can adversely affect your health, putting you at risk for concerns such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes to name a few, they can also affect the health of your brain.
Instances of diabetes leading to dementia are growing, and this is causing researchers to dig a bit further into this now commonly known link.
So, what is the connection between diabetes and dementia?
Do age and onset make a difference?
And, if you have diabetes, or are at risk for diabetes, what can you do to reduce your risk of cognitive decline?
Diabetes & Dementia
Diabetes is a health condition that changes how your body converts food into energy.
As you eat, foods are normally broken down into glucose (sugar) which is released into your bloodstream.
When the amount of sugar in your blood increases, this sends a signal to your pancreas to release insulin, a substance that allows your cells to then use that sugar as energy.
In the case of diabetes, however, the body doesn’t produce adequate amounts of insulin, causing too much sugar to remain in the bloodstream.
This can then lead to further health concerns such as kidney disease, problems with vision, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
And, it’s the last threat on that list that is garnering much attention as of late.
Diabetics actually have a 73% greater risk of developing dementia than non-diabetics, with type 1 diabetics being 93% more likely to develop dementia.
And, while dementia can be caused by a number of illnesses or even injury, specifically speaking of its link to diabetes, it is thought that high levels of blood sugar and insulin can also cause harm or damage to the brain.
So then, what is the connection between these two health conditions?
First, we know that diabetes most often leads to a slow and subtle decline in brain function, but in patients who already are experiencing cognitive decline, the likelihood of this decline progressing to full-blown dementia increases greatly.
But, aside from those already experiencing cognitive decline, diabetes knowingly causes damage to blood vessels, and it is also a known risk factor for vascular dementia, a type of cognitive decline often associated with brain damage due to problems with a lack of blood supply to the brain.
In fact, the risk of developing vascular dementia increases by 100% in diabetes patients.
And, as diabetes can lead to heart damage or stroke, blood vessels within the brain can become damaged in such instances.
Diabetes can also cause chronic inflammation throughout the body which is known to damage brain cells. And, some studies have shown diabetes to cause an increase in the production of a toxic protein which causes damage here as well.
And, type 2 diabetes, in particular, is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and even mild cognitive impairments including having difficulty concentrating, problems with memory, learning new things, and making decisions.
The link here is usually seen in patients with type 2 diabetes and those with Alzheimer’s disease, both suffering from oxidative stress and diminished insulin signaling. Here, insulin resistance in the body leads to diabetes, and insulin resistance in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
But, as recent research has given us greater knowledge regarding this connection, a finding that is particularly troubling surrounds age of onset, given the fact that the age of diabetes diagnoses seems to be getting younger and younger.
Age Of Onset Could Make All The Difference
While the link between diabetes and dementia has been well established, this connection has led scientists to search for even more answers.
And, the results of this ongoing research has led scientists to believe that the earlier one is diagnosed with diabetes, the greater their risk is for developing dementia.
Over time, the effects diabetes can have on blood pressure and heart health is thought to be one of the largest contributors to dementia as heart and brain health are closely linked.
Another risk associated with an early life diagnosis of diabetes is that the longer you are faced with controlling your body’s blood sugars, the more likely you are to have had instances or episodes of low blood sugar as well.
Instances of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) over time can cause damage to the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center), leading to memory loss and dementia.
Thankfully, not only are there some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes in the first place, there are also things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia as well, even if you already have diabetes.
Decreasing Your Risk Of Dementia When Living With Diabetes
So, now we’ve learned that diabetics also have to be concerned with cognitive decline as they manage an already troublesome disease.
But, thankfully there are some ways to manage that risk!
Maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you are overweight or obese can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and can prevent complications (like dementia) from the disease if you are a diabetic.
Losing weight can…
- keep your blood sugar levels healthy and in turn reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure or the buildup of arterial plaque which can both lead to heart disease or stroke, thus potentially damaging your brain
- make your body more sensitive to insulin, causing insulin resistance to decrease and allowing diabetes to be better managed
- reduce the risk of vascular damage, a common link to dementia
Exercise and a healthy diet are often mentioned in conjunction with weight management, and these certainly are crucial in keeping or reaching a healthy weight, but these can also help you to manage diabetes and decrease the risk of the disease progressing to dementia as well.
To effectively manage diabetes, aside from controlling blood sugars, be sure to
- exercise at least 30 minutes per day
- eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
These practices can prevent diabetes, keep the disease from progressing, and may potentially reduce the risk of diabetes progressing to dementia.
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