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Diabetes Treatment Could Play a Role in Protecting Against Alzheimer’s Disease

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE could have a higher prevalence in patients who have untreated diabetes. Researchers from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA, set out to study relationships between the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, dementia risk, and biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Their results showed that patients who had untreated diabetes displayed signs of Alzheimer’s disease 1.6-times more quickly than those without diabetes.

The researchers studied the data of 1,289 participants aged ≥55 years from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The data included health tests, cognitive assessment, memory tests, and MRI scans. A sub-group of 900 patients underwent a lumbar puncture to determine further measurements, such as cerebrospinal fluid and tau proteins. Tau proteins point to the development of brain tangles; these are the signature marker of Alzheimer’s disease because the tangles combine with a toxic protein and disrupt signals, thereby impairing memory and other brain functions. Out of 900 patients from the 1,289, 54 had Type 2 diabetes and were not receiving treatment, 67 had diabetes and were being treated, 530 had normal blood sugar levels, and 250 displayed hyperglycaemia.

The study concluded that untreated diabetes is associated with higher tau levels, and therefore risk of dementia; this was an association not found in treated diabetes patients. Daniel Nation, psychologist at the University of Southern California, discussed the importance of the findings: “Our findings emphasise the importance of catching diabetes or other metabolic diseases in adults as early as you can. Among people with diabetes, the difference in their rate of developing the signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s is clearly tied somehow to whether or not they are on medication for it.”

Alzheimer’s is believed to be caused by many agents, including genetic factors and pollution exposure, rather than having one main trigger. Whilst further research is required, the findings of this study suggest the important role that diabetes treatment plays in Alzheimer’s development.