The Growing Connection Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. This disease is characterized by its progressive nature and the loss of cognitive functioning, including thinking, remembering, and reasoning; this often results in problems that impact activities of one’s daily life. As a person with progressing Alzheimer’s disease, there may be changes in behavior, personality, increased anxiety, emotional state, and cognitive issues such as delusions. 

Dementia, which is an umbrella term that includes the symptoms of Alziemher’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, is caused by damage to brain cells. These brain cells, or neurons, when damaged, have trouble commuting with each other. So what causes this damage to these brain cells? Depending on the area of the brain in which the damage has occurred, various types of dementia may result. For Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, the build up of high levels of defective Tau proteins impede normal functioning. The hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that controls learning and memory, is often the first to present the effects of these abnormal proteins. 

Currently, in the United States, there are approximately 5.7 million individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and this number is expected to grow as an aging population hits their mid 60’s, which is when the onset of this disease often is first detected. According to recent research, an additional risk factor for Alzheimer’s may be type II diabetes. Type II diabetes occurs when the pancreas’ secretion of insulin in the body is insufficient, resulting in inadequate metabolism of glucose and abnormally high blood glucose levels. This results in the body’s cells unable to properly respond to insulin, taking in less glucose, and causing a buildup of sugar in blood plasma. The excess sugar in the blood caused by unmanaged diabetes is known to cause many adverse conditions such as damage to the nervous system (neuropathy).

The Link Between Diabates and Alzheimer's

While doctors do not completely understand the link between type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s, there are three main reasons why this hypothesis exists: 

  1. When your blood sugar levels reach diabetic levels, it doubles your chances of cardiovascular disease and stroke.. This damages the blood vessels and causes strain on your heart; these damaged vessels in your brain can lead to Alzheimer’s or other neurological problems. 
  2. Our brain functions are dependent on the balance of many different chemicals or hormones. Many of our moods are dependent on these chemicals, and any imbalances can leave you feeling off. Diabetes can cause an imbalance of insulin which throws our brain’s chemicals into disequilibrium. These changes in brain chemistry may trigger Alziemher’s in some people.
  3. High blood sugar also activates inflammatory pathways in the brain, which causes unknown amounts of damage. When you get bitten by a bug or develop a rash on your skin, you will see swelling in the affected area - in such cases, the effects of inflammation are unpleasant but relatively harmless. Internal inflammation, however, is thought to cause damage to the brain cells and therefore may be a contributing factor to conditions such as Alzheimer’s. 

Type III Diabetes:

Have you ever heard of Type 3 diabetes? You are not alone because it is a relatively new concept in the medical field and is not understood as well as Type I and Type II diabetes. Type III diabetes happens when neurons stop responding to insulin; the brain’s ability to respond to insulin is crucial for memory and learning. Type III diabetes is similar to Type II diabetes, but the difference lies in where the impact in the body is concentrated. Scientists have been able to link a known Alziemher’s gene (APOE4) to Type III diabetes by showing that this gene also alters the way the brain processes insulin. The link between APOE4, diabetes, and Alzherimer’s may be groundbreaking in the future development of treatments and therapies for millions of patients. 

Protect Yourself From Alzheimer’s by Avoiding Diabetes Through Lifestyle Changes: 

It is important to note that preventing type II diabetes from occurring may not eliminate your risk of Alzheimer’s. This is because Alzheimer’s is a disease that is both environmental and genetic. However, there are many lifestyle changes that one can make to limit the risk of the scenarios mentioned above: 

One should always consult a doctor before making any major lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally, will decrease the chance of developing Alzheimer’s. When people understand all the factors that contribute to the development of these diseases, they can do their best to prevent the onset and mitigate symptoms. 

Treatment of Alzheimer's

If you believe you or a loved one have experienced cognitive decline or memory issues, it is important to be seen by a specialist as soon as possible. The staff at NY Neurology Associates includes a team of doctors who work with each patient to understand their specific neurological needs and design a treatment plan. Schedule a consultation with a dementia specialist today by calling (646) 679-6609 or requesting an appointment below.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, you or they may be eligible to participate in a clinical research study. Visit for more information on the ongoing and upcoming studies on Alzheimer's disease.


See Also:

Amelia Marotta Amelia Marotta Clinical Research Assistant at New York neurology Institute. Currently a student at Fordham University studying Biological Sciences. Email: LinkedIn:

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