Alzheimer's is arguably one of the most dreaded, terrifying diseases that older people can face. It's also not uncommon, affecting some 5.4 million Americans.

Some experts theorize that there is a connection between Alzheimer's and diabetes. The trouble begins when a person develops insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Typically, this happens when an individual eats and drinks so many sugary carbs that his body needs more and more insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and manages carbohydrate metabolism. At some point, the cells simply become resistant to insulin, and insulin levels become elevated. Elevated insulin levels may be harmful to the blood vessels, and when the blood vessels aren't working properly, an individual is at risk for heart disease. Just as the heart cells become insulin-resistant, so, too, do the brain cells, experts say.  And when the brain cells are no longer being helped by insulin, memory loss and disorientation may result.

The Diabetes-Alzheimer's Link
It's known that simply having diabetes puts you at risk for developing Alzheimer's. In fact, if you have diabetes, you have twice the risk of getting Alzheimer's as someone without diabetes. In his New York Times blog, food writer Mark Bittman points out that this link has been accepted for some time, "The connection between poor diet and Alzheimer's is becoming more convincing."

"Epidemiologically, there appears to be more dementia in patient with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes," says Leann Olanksy, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "It is not clear if this relates to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) or even hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) or to the other conditions such as abnormal lipids (fats) and elevated blood pressure seen often in these patients."

What the Future Holds
As newer drugs for diabetes that do not put patients at risk for hypoglycemia and allow better control of high blood sugar and lipids are introduced, it will be interesting to see if this association weakens, Olansky says.

Cleveland Clinic neurologist and Alzheimer's expert Jagan Pillai, MD, Ph.D., says there is a strong clinical relationship between dementia and diabetes, rather than specifically Alzheimer's dementia.

"It is an interesting idea waiting to be confirmed or disproved in larger global clinical studies with different incident diabetes rates," Pillai says.

So what does the possible diabetes-Alzheimer's link mean for you? If you're obese, you will help yourself by taking control of your weight and getting it into the normal range, as Bittman says in his blog: "Adopting a sane diet, a diet contrary to the standard American diet, would appear to give you a far better shot at avoiding diabetes in all of its form, along with its dreaded complications," he says.



Bittman, Mark. "Is Alzheimer's Type 3 Diabetes?"
Opinionator Blogs, The New York Times. Web. 25 September 2012.

Sagon, Candy. "Alzheimer's: Is it Diabetes of the Brain?" AARP Blog. Web. 28 September 2012.