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Don’t lose your mind! Poor glucose management can lead to brain volume loss late in life.

September 4, 2012 in News

Here’s yet another reason to stick to your blood glucose self-management regimen: poor control over your blood glucose can result in brain atrophy – basically, your brain shrinking in volume.

Brain atrophy happens as a result of the loss of cells, and its exact effects vary depending on where the cells are lost. Regardless of the location of the damage, declines in function occur, and the condition often gets progressively worse over time. A variety of cognitive and neurological problems can develop, including dementia.

Longstanding type 2 diabetes is one of the conditions known to be associated with brain atrophy. A recent study chose to explore the specifics of this link, and looked at changes in brain volume in older adults, and how these changes related to blood glucose status.

The researchers examined patients between ages 70 and 90 years at two different times. At the first visit, each participant had an MRI, to estimate brain volume, and had information about their blood glucose collected. Two years later, these same tests were repeated, and participants were assigned to one of four groups:

  • patients who had normal blood sugar at both time points,
  • patients who had impaired fasting glucose at both visits,
  • patients who had either normal or impaired fasting glucose at baseline, and had developed type 2 diabetes by the second visit,
  • and patients who had a diagnosis of diabetes at the first visit.

Individuals who either progressed to diabetes over two years, or were diagnosed with diabetes at the time the study started, lost 2.3 times more brain volume than the patients who had and maintained a normal, non diabetic blood glucose over the same time period. Patients with impaired fasting glucose that remained stable also lost more brain volume than those within the normal range, but to a lesser degree- they lost about 1.4 times more tissue than than those with normal blood glucose.

One of the important results of this study is that it shows that high blood glucose is an independent risk factor for cognitive dysfunction. High blood pressure and high cholesterol have been previously established as risk factors for cognitive dysfunctions such as dementia.

Future research will look into whether the process of brain atrophy due to high blood glucose can be stopped entirely, and into exactly what the mechanism by which high blood sugar damages brain tissues.

The authors of the study stated that their findings provide strong support for the importance of maintaining good glycemic control, even in elderly patients. Maintaining this control can help slow down cognitive decline late in life.

For more information about the study findings, you can read the original report on Medscape. Access to the article does require a login, but signing up is free.


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