Type 2 diabetics at increased risk of dementia, study suggests

26 January 2018        

Category: BHF Comment

People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of diseases that affect our cognitive abilities, like dementia, according to a new study published today in the journal Diabetologia.

Human brain scan 640px 

The study, led by Dr Wuxiang Xie at Imperial College London and Peking University Clinical Research Institute in China, suggests that the cognitive abilities of those with diabetes, like memory and brain function, declined much faster than those with normal blood sugar levels. 

Sugars and brain function

The international team looked at more than 5,000 British men and women over the age of 50 and the mean follow-up was eight years. They analysed the levels of a molecule called haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) which is a good indication of how well your body controls blood sugar levels. They also analysed cognitive decline by looking at cognition, memory and function scores. 

Even after taking age, sex, lifestyle factors and existing health issues such as heart disease, lung disease and cancer into account, the findings suggest there is a direct link between HbA1c and cognitive decline.

The team now believe controlling blood sugar could protect our brains from life-altering conditions that affect our memories, such as dementia. 

Diseases are linked together

The research adds to previous studies uncovering the connections between diseases of the heart and circulatory system including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia. These connections are due to the role our blood vessels play in linking every organ or tissue in our bodies together. 

In diabetes, high levels of sugars in the blood can damage our blood vessels, making them more prone to fatty plaque build-up and clots. If a clot then becomes dislodged, it can travel to our hearts or brain, causing a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke. 

Commenting on the research BHF Senior Cardiac Nurse, Philippa Hobson, said:

“People with diabetes are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke.

“This study suggests type 2 diabetes could also put you at risk of cognitive diseases, like dementia.

“More research is needed to confirm whether controlling our blood sugars could help protect our brains. But at the very least, this research reinforces the fact that conditions are often intertwined and better understanding these connections could help us develop new ways of treating them.”

The original study can be found on the Springer website

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