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Researchers from Scotland used a mouse model to investigate whether antioxidants can reduce brain fog associated with diabetes.

Blood sugar levels rise normally rise after eating. In response, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream to signal cells to use the sugar as energy, or to store it in the form of fat. The pancreas will halt insulin production when blood glucose levels are sufficiently lowered.

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body becomes unable to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels in the blood damage the blood vessels, organs, and nerves. Managing diabetes involves making lifestyle changes, carefully monitoring blood glucose levels, and taking daily medications to lower blood sugar.

Yet, insulin therapy often results in bouts of low blood sugar, referred to as hypoglycaemia. Recurring or prolonged hypoglycaemia in diabetics has been associated with a decline in cognitive function (sometimes called ‘brain fog’). As a result, people with type 1 diabetes, who must take insulin, can experience long-term difficulty learning and performing tasks that involve memory – the so called diabetes brain fog.

Building upon previous research on recurring episodes of low blood sugar which have shown elevated levels of free radicals in the brain, a new study led by Dr. Alison McNeilly investigated whether antioxidants to remove free radicals could improve cognitive ability in memory tasks.

Along with her colleagues at the University of Dundee in Scotland, Dr. McNeilly used insulin implants to induce type 1 diabetes in 8 male mice. The mice were then divided into three groups:

  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes and recurring hypoglycaemia
  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes and recurring hypoglycaemia that were given the antioxidant sulforaphane
  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes that were the control group

The researchers found that the three mice who were given sulforaphane performed better on tasks involving novel object recognition. In addition, levels of free radicals in the brain were lower.

Further research on the activation of antioxidant pathways is needed, however, this research suggests that boosting the body’s antioxidants may improve brain health for diabetic patients who experience recurring episodes of hypoglycaemia. Patients with diabetes experiencing ‘brain fog’ should speak with their doctor.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD

Reference: McNeilly, A. et al. (2018) Nrf2 mediated protection against hypoglycaemia induced cognitive deficits in type 1 diabetes. Presented at Society for Endocrinology 2018, Glasgow, UK. Endocrine Abstracts 59 P108. DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.59.P108

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

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