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Is type 2 diabetes treatment linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

A recent study, published in Diabetes care, investigated a potential link between type 2 diabetes treatment and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

 

Type 2 diabetes, a medical condition characterized by the body’s inability to manage appropriate blood sugar levels, has been associated with worsened cognitive functions. Specifically, compared to healthy individuals type 2 diabetics have been shown to have worsened verbal memory, information processing speed and attention, and executive function.

Due to these findings, researchers have suggested that type 2 diabetes may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The few studies that have investigated a potential link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease remain inconclusive. For instance, autopsy studies found that type 2 diabetes had no significant association with Alzheimer’s disease markers.

In contrast, population-based studies found that undiagnosed diabetes increased the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to well-managed diabetes and healthy participants. Furthermore, animal studies have shown that several types of diabetes medications can confer neuroprotective and cognitive benefits. Identifying type 2 diabetes as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia might allow clinicians to better educate their patients and take appropriate actions to improve the quality of life and overall health of their patients.

A recent observational study, published in Diabetes care, investigated whether type 2 diabetes treatment is linked with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Participants were categorized into four groups including:

  • Normal sugar level group
  • Pre-diabetes group (PD)
  • Untreated diabetes group (UD)
  • Treated diabetes group (TD)

The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of each participant was assessed for Alzheimer’s disease markers including phosphorylated Tau (p-Tau), total Tau (t-Tau), and Aβ1-42. They also examined the participant’s progression to dementia over a 120-month period.

In summary, a total of 331 participants progressed to dementia over the follow-up period. Compared to participants with normal sugar levels, the UD showed a more rapid progression towards dementia. Moreover, the UD group exhibited a higher level of p-Tau and t-Tau compared to the other three groups. No difference, however, was observed between Aβ1-42 levels between the four groups.

In conclusion, the study found that adults with unmanaged type 2 diabetes had higher levels of Alzheimer’s disease markers and rapidly progressed to dementia, compared to healthy participants and individuals with managed type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the authors suggest that the management and treatment of type 2 diabetes may be an effective strategy for reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Written by Haisam Shah, BSc

Reference: McIntosh, E. C., & Nation, D. A. (2019). Importance of Treatment Status in Links Between Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimer Disease. Diabetes Care.

Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam is a first-year Masters student in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. His research involves understanding the role of cardiac fibroblasts in the progressive development of cardiac fibrosis following a myocardial infarction. He graduated from McGill University with a Bachelors of Science – Honors in Pharmacology, where he had the opportunity of investigating potential combination therapies for Glioblastoma Multiforme.
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