Can Type II Diabetes Double Your Risk of Dementia?

by Dr Michael Trayford on January 7, 2012

For years we have held the belief that challenges with blood sugar handling, especially the hyperglycemic variety, are at the root of a host of disorders of humankind; in our practice the primary interest being on neurodegenerative disorders.  A recently published long-term study supports this belief, and offers hope in battling one of the most devastating of all human conditions – dementia.

According to a Japanese Study “Glucose tolerance status and risk of dementia in the community – The Hisayama Study” printed in the September 2011 issue of the journal Neurology, there is clear evidence to support the fact that individuals with adult onset diabetes (Type II) are at a significantly higher risk for developing various types of dementia (including Alzheimer’s type dementia).  Some of the evidence presented in this study points to double the risk of developing dementia if you are a Type II diabetic vs. being a non-diabetic.  This risk was also shown to be significantly increased in those with ‘pre-diabetes’, or borderline high blood sugar levels.  Estimates from the American Diabetes Association put 79 million Americans in the ‘pre-diabetic’ category, over 3 times greater than the number of Americans with any type of diabetes (just about 1/4 of our total population!!!).

What is the reason for developing dementia as a result of having diabetes?  Although this study was focused primarily on the rates of development of dementia in a population and not the actual mechanisms of the disease itself (there are several types of dementia), it is also important to consider concurrently with this study the role elevated blood sugar plays in our declining health that has been widely studied in various health science disciplines.  From small blood vessel damage and the brain’s impaired response to insulin, to oxidative stress, inflammation and fat deposition; excess blood sugar ultimately leads to impaired fuel delivery to what is considered by most to be ‘pound for pound’ the most metabolically active organ in our body (the brain being roughly 2% of our body weight consumes 10-20% of our energy stores!).  Impaired fuel delivery to our brain leads to dysfunction with nerve transmission, neuronal growth and connections, effectiveness of neurotransmitters, and, ultimately, cell death.

It is more important than ever for us to gain control over our blood sugar levels and decrease not only our risk for developing dementia, but for so many other conditions of humankind.  We will explore dietary and lifestyle changes that will have a dramatic impact on your blood sugar handling shortly in upcoming posts, so stay tuned for more life-changing information!

As a final thought – Imagine the impact we could have on the over $350 Billion burden placed on our health care (or sick care depending on how you look at it) system by diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease alone!

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