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Diabetes of the Brain

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerDecember 6, 2017

The latest study to look at the effects of blood sugar levels on the brain has found that high glucose concentrations can lead to an increase of beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles, suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease may actually be a third form of diabetes.

Learn more about this study and the relationship between diabetes and brain health.

The Link Between Alzheimer’s and Diabetes

It’s no secret that there is a strong link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, but now a new study suggests that Alzheimer’s may actually be a form of diabetes known as type 3 diabetes.

The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, a journal of the Alzheimer’s Association and conducted by the National Institute of Aging, shows that high glucose concentrations in brain tissue can stem from abnormal glucose metabolism and even lead to amyloid plaques and tau tangles associated with the disease.

The study claims that glucose levels in the brain are metabolized by a key protein (GLUT3), not insulin, like the rest of the body. GLUT3 transports glucose through the metabolism process into nerve cells, providing energy for neurons in a process called glycolysis. When blood sugar levels are high, there are high concentrations of glucose levels in brain tissue. Additionally, the study found that a reduction in glycolysis were related to a more severe manifestation of Alzheimer’s.

The study says, “To the best of our knowledge, this report is the first to measure brain-tissue glucose concentrations and… demonstrate their relationships with both severity of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and the expression of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.”

Madhav Thambisetty of the NIA’s Laboratory for Behavioral Neuroscience and lead on the study, says the study confirms the advice he gives patients with memory issues: “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Study Suggests That Diabetes Raises the Risk of Alzheimer’s

While studies have noted the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, it’s been difficult to test because insulin isn’t needed to transport glucose to neurons in the brain.

Co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, William Klunk, says the study “is a promising extension of existing thinking in the field that will need to be verified by other groups and more fully understood before it can be translated into practical therapeutic advances.”

Carol Schramke, director of behavioral neurology at Allegheny General Hospital, says, “The same things that are bad for the heart are bad for the brain — I say that five times a day. “We need to prevent it because it is hard to give back brain function once there’s damage. [The study] is not a new drug coming out next week. Research is slow but this is going in the right direction — the kind of basis science that needs to be funded and supported to get better treatments and prevent these disorders.”

Could Alzheimer’s be a form of diabetes manifested in the brain? Share your experiences with Alzheimer’s and diabetes in the comments below. 

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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