The link between diabetes and all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is now well established.
The greater the blood sugar instability, the higher the risk for dementia, with type 1 insulin-dependent diabetics having the biggest Alzheimer’s risk – four times that of people who don’t have diabetes.
Considering that four out of five Alzheimer’s patients have disturbed glucose metabolism, scientists wondered whether drugs that control blood sugar could be used to reduce the risk or severity of the condition.
Here’s what they found. . .
Lowers Risk By 29%
A German study just published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that diabetics without dementia who were taking metformin, the most common diabetes drug, were 29 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia.1
An earlier study from Taiwan found that, while diabetes increased the risk of dementia, taking metformin or another antidiabetic drug, sulfonylureas, made this outcome less likely.2
A novel post-mortem study published in the journal PLOS One in November was the first to separate tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in the brain from the adjacent tissue.
In the course of investigating the issue, the research group from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, had previously demonstrated reduced pathology in Alzheimer’s patients with diabetes who were taking blood sugar control medication.
Now they took their research further by performing autopsies to look at the lining of the blood vessels.
Prevents Brain Damage
The scientists examined the brains of 34 Alzheimer’s patients who also had diabetes and had taken anti-diabetic medication.
These were compared with19 people who had Alzheimer’s but not diabetes, and a control group of 30 who had neither disease.
The researchers found considerable reductions and abnormalities in gene expression in the vessels and tissues of the Alzheimer’s-only group. But these changes were strongly reduced in those taking medication.3
The study establishes a link between Alzheimer’s and the brain’s blood vessels.
Senior author Professor Vahram Haroutunian said, “Most modern Alzheimer’s treatments target amyloid plaques and haven’t succeeded in effectively treating the disease. The results of this study are important because they give us new insights…
“The findings could lead to a more targeted treatment for people with Alzheimer’s, given what we now know.”
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society UK, was enthusiastic. He commented, “This study raises the exciting possibility that diabetes drugs could improve the supply of blood to the brain, helping to keep it healthy and prevent damage in people with Alzheimer’s.”
US neuroscientist Luca Gilberto, MD, PhD, was also impressed by the research. He said the findings “remind us of how important it is to keep vascular risk factors under control as we age,” and that treating high blood sugar “will result in a reduction of further brain insult.”4
Keeping Blood Sugar Under Control
High blood sugar is very bad news. Not only does it lead to diabetes and a heightened risk of dementia, it also increases heart disease, stroke and cancer risk, and speeds up the aging process.
Professor Haroutunian does not believe Alzheimer’s patients who do not suffer from diabetes should be taking diabetic medication, because he feels more research is needed.
And he certainly wouldn’t approve of healthy people getting hold of these drugs for preventative purposes, so what can you do?
I respectfully differ with the professor on this. With the exception of a few people who have side effects (almost always gastro-intestinal), metformin shows the potential to benefit almost all seniors. Some anti-aging experts actually consider it an anti-aging drug suitable even for healthy people. It appears to be one of the most benign drugs on the market.
At the same time, I believe a healthy diet and regular exercise are by far the best way to reach the same goals. Switch to a low carbohydrate eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet. It’s low in starchy, high-glycemic carbs that the body converts to blood sugar very quickly. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit, vegetables, full fat yogurt and eggs. Such a diet will help keep blood sugar stable.
But the fact is, almost any low-carb diet will do the trick. And as you probably know, there’s a lot of them. At the minimum, eliminate refined sugar (including fructose and, yes, even so-called benign sugars like maple syrup, honey and agave. If you need to get your blood sugar down, you’re dealing with a four-alarm fire that is more important than whatever nutrients these more healthy sweeteners contain. They’re still sugar.)
A good rule of thumb is to avoid the “white foods”: sugar, rice, potatoes, anything made with white flour.
There are also many nutrients, herbs, spices and plant extracts that have been shown to be effective at helping control blood sugar. These include chromium, cinnamon, bitter melon, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10.