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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Type 2 Diabetic Alzheimer's, Insulin and Dementia



Type 2 diabetic Alzheimer's caught my attention when I was reading about nasal insulin spray. It was on the market for a short while, but diabetics did not warm up to it, so it was taken off the market again.
But researchers at the National Veteran's Administration Hospital had been looking at Alzheimer's dementia patients and the low levels of insulin found in their brains. The researchers decided to try giving those patients doses of nasal insulin spray, hoping it would reach their brains without causing high insulin levels in the blood.
The results were very encouraging. Memory and thinking skills were improved for a while in many of the Alzheimer's patients, most in those who had mild levels of dementia. Of course, lots more studies will have to be done before nasal insulin spray is prescribed for Alzheimer's dementia.
Looking For the Connection
Statistics show that having type 2 diabetes doubles your risk for Alzheimer's dementia. That is not the same as vascular dementia, which is often the result of hardening and narrowing of arteries, strokes and heart disease.
The steps from diabetes to vascular dementia are easy to follow since diabetes damages blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, strokes and vascular diseases as we age. But what about Alzheimer's dementia?
When older diabetics with mental ability decline were tested, they had brain changes that look like both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. The cause seems to be the long-term effects on brain cells of their inability to use sugar and respond to insulin.
Increased mild cognitive impairment (called MCI) seems to be the stage between normal aging and Alzheimer's dementia. There is a lot of interest in the pathways to Alzheimer because of the statistics.
Making a Case
If there is a connection between Alzheimer's and diabetes we need to know it. On Dr. Oz's website there is an article titled "Alzheimers - brain form of diabetes?" The writer explains that in Alzheimer's the brain's ability to use sugar is reduced. It is insulin that helps the brain take up sugar. Since insulin is not as effective with Alzheimer's, brain cells begin to starve.
In type 2 diabetic Alzheimer's the pancreas is pumping out insulin, more than is being used because of insulin resistance. There are high levels of sugar and of insulin in your blood. The damage they cause leads to poor circulation from blood vessel hardening and weakening.
In patients with early Alzheimer's the brain demonstrates resistance to insulin, and it starts with the sections that control memory and personality. Insulin resistance gets serious in the brain because insulin helps make neurotransmitters that are needed for neurons to talk to each other.
And your brain actually makes its own insulin, the same kind that is made in your pancreas. When that insulin isn't being used it causes inflammatory responses in your brain's blood vessels.
Another problem for Alzheimer's patients is the presence of brain plaques. They are formed by a protein called beta amyloid. Type 2 diabetes interferes with the breakdown of this protein, and it builds up, becoming one of the telltale signs of Alzheimer's dementia.
What Is Going On With Mortality Rates?
Heart disease and cancer statistics are down, but Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's have gone up. Until 1980 diabetes as a cause of death was declining, but since then it has gone up steadily.
That's in spite of improvements in medical treatment and understanding of the disease. That kind of rise in death rates does not seem to point to a genetic cause but to an environmental one.
Right now one in ten people over 20 years old has diabetes. One in four people over 65 know that have it. And the World Health Organization thinks that there is a huge number who have type 2 diabetes and don't know it.
Alzheimer's dementia is ranked the sixth leading cause of death. One in eight people over 65 has it, and half the people over 85 do. And there seem to be strong parallels between the mortality rates of both Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes, and increased exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines. But the connection has not become an accepted fact.
Research shows that large doses of nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines are harmful to humans and animals, causing DNA damage, oxidative stress and breakdown of cell walls. It is a proinflammatory, causing cytokine activation. And cytokines found in your liver and fat cells may be the inflammatory cause of type 2 diabetes.
Nitrosamines are used to keep foods fresh. We have moved steadily to huge megafarms and away from smaller local farming communities, and the more foods are brought from far away the more nitrosamines are needed.
Nitrites are used in processing cured meats, and sodium nitrate is a common preservative in many processed foods. The question right now is whether long-term chronic low doses of these nitrosamines could cause Alzheimer's dementia, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
While they are debating this, there are things you can do to reduce the levels of nitrosamines in your own diet. The first one is to avoid processed foods, and learn to look for sodium nitrate among the preservatives on labels.
Fertilizers, pesticides and cosmetics rely heavily on nitrosamines, so there may be some in your water and on your skin. Fried bacon, cured meats and cheese as well as beer have nitrates. So avoiding them can be hard.
Type 2 Diabetic Alzheimer's, Fighting Back
What else can you do? You can manage your type 2 diabetes, keeping your blood sugar well controlled. Take the medications you've been given for cholesterol and blood pressure too. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and eat healthy foods.
You can add "brain food" to your diet as well. These superfoods are especially good for protecting brain function and slowing the aging process in your brain.
  • Walnuts slow the aging of the brain with an antioxidant called luteolin. It may reduce memory deficits and inflammation of the brain too. You can also find luteolin in olive oil, peppers and celery.
  • Berries - blueberry juice has improved memory and depression in trials. It can slow aging and increase signal ability in your brain.
  • Fish rich in omega-3 such as wild salmon slows cognitive decline. It also has B12 which may actually protect you against Alzheimer's.
  • Coffee and tea may prevent Alzheimer's and improve your brain's function.
  • Spinach and other green leafy vegetables have vitamins C and E which have been shown to increase and protect brain function.
If you exercise your mind it keeps those brain cells agile. There is proof that brain games help people stay sharper as they age. And physical exercise is always a great idea.
And if you have begun having problems with cognitive decline, all those things will help you too. It becomes more important to manage your sleep, because it is too easy to get your sleep cycle messed up in early Alzheimer's. And if you have pain, restless leg syndrome, or depression, get some help for those too.
Type 2 diabetic Alzheimer's dementia may have many causes, and nothing explains all the complications of Alzheimer's or of type 2 diabetes for that matter. We may watch with interest and even hope as researchers dig into the mysteries of our body's systems, but we must live today. We can find joy in our creative outlets and our friends and family. It's still the secret of living with type 2 diabetes.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." J.R.R. Tolkien, taken from The Lord of the Rings
Martha Zimmer invites you to visit her website and learn more about type 2 diabetes, its complications and how you can deal with them, as well as great tips for eating healthy that will make living with diabetes less painful.
Go to and find out what you can do to avoid many of the pitfalls of this life-changing condition, like paying for cures that don't work and spending money for things you could have gotten free. Martha has made the mistakes and done the research so you don't have to.
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