Type 2 Diabetes and Memory Loss

How diabetes-related inflammation impacts the brain

Researchers have long known that inflammation plays a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. This inflammation comes from substances that are produced by the body’s immune and fat cells. The result: impaired blood flow and blood vessel function— which impacts the health of the heart, kidneys and other organs and body systems.

memory loss

A study published in a July 2015 journal Neurology found that this reduced blood flow and blood vessel capability also affects the brain by speeding up cognitive decline and memory loss in older adults with type 2 diabetes.

 Measuring the Impact

The researchers studied 65 men and women between the ages of 57 and 75. Thirty-five of the study participants had been treated for type 2 diabetes for more than five years at the beginning of the study. The initial assessment of all participants included testing of memory and cognitive function skills, as well as MRI scans and blood tests to determine baseline blood flow, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, and brain volume. None of the participants had any type of cognitive impairment at the time of the initial assessment.

At a two-year follow-up, those with type 2 diabetes showed a significant decline in thinking and memory scores. None of the non-diabetic participants showed any decline. Blood vessel health and blood flow regulation were also seriously impaired in those with diabetes.

“We ultimately concluded that diabetes-related inflammation of the small blood vessels in the brain may accelerate decline in those with type 2 diabetes,” says study author Vera Novak, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and director of Syncope and Falls in the Elderly (SAFE) laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “This, in turn, affects not only their overall health but also their day-to-day activities.”

For now, it is unclear whether inflammation initially causes insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes or if existing inflammation is intensified by high blood sugar, or both. Since this study ended with a two-year follow-up, further and longer-term studies are necessary before researchers fully understand the impact of type 2 diabetes and inflammation on mental health and other complications.

What You Can Do

If you have type 2 diabetes, or have been diagnosed with a related condition, such as prediabetes or insulin resistance, the best thing you can do is follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your blood glucose (sugar) levels within a recommended range. Consistent blood glucose control is key to preventing complications and maintaining a good quality of life.

Greek saladControlling blood glucose, however, is just the first step. Consider these tips, as well, to help reduce inflammation:

  • follow your doctor’s complete treatment plan and take all medications prescribed, in the dose and frequency prescribed.
  •  ask your doctor about the role of inflammation in the progression of type 2 diabetes' complications, and what you can do about it.
  • speak with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator about the best diet and lifestyle choices you can make to stay as healthy as possible. Mediterranean and vegan diets can be very effective in reducing inflammation. Choose anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines. Eliminating or limiting foods that are thought to be inflammatory can really help. too. These include fried foods, refined carbohydrates, such as breads made with white flour and excess sugar, and processed meats, such as hot dogs and cold cuts.
  • get moving. Multiple studies have shown that moderate exercise helps reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions, and this may be due, in part, to an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.



Updated on: March 22, 2017
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