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Diabetes and dementia - is there a connection?

What do diabetes and dementia have in common?

Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to make enough insulin or use the insulin it makes properly. Insulin is a hormone used by the body to control glucose levels, or the amount of sugar, in your blood. Glucose is one of the main sources of fuel for the body, providing energy the body needs to perform all necessary functions.

There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. A third type, gestational diabetes, occurs temporarily during pregnancy. Studies have shown that type 2 diabetes can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and other types of dementia because cardiovascular problems associated with diabetes are also associated with dementia. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease or family history of heart disease
  • Impaired blood vessels
  • Circulation problems
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure

Research has also proved that, similar to diabetes, glucose is not used properly in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This may be caused by nerve cell death, which reduces the brain’s ability to interpret messages. In the case of vascular dementia, brain cells die due to lack of oxygen, preventing brain cells from communicating with each other.

Beta amyloid plaques, which build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, have also been shown to prevent insulin receptors in the brain from doing their job. This can impact insulin production and cause brain cells to become insensitive to insulin.

Is Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes”?

Recent studies suggest that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are in a diabetic state, partly due to the decrease in or insensitivity to insulin. There are many similarities in the brains of people with diabetes and the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease; however, diabetes only remains a risk factor. Some people with diabetes may go on to develop dementia, but many will not.

Reducing your risk for diabetes and dementia

What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Living a healthy lifestyle that promotes cardiovascular health will benefit your brain.

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamin D, folate, and B6 and B12 vitamins
  • Exercise regularly – both your body and mind
  • Stay socially active and challenge yourself daily
  • Protect your head when playing sports

To learn more, visit our brain health section.


Last Updated: 02/10/16
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