Dementia Risk Could Be Higher with Early Onset Type 2 Diabetes

insulin-related disease that ravages body may take additional toll on brain

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

With type 2 diabetes, the body misuses insulin. It wreaks havoc on the body, including the brain, and must be regularly monitored. A new study says contracting type 2 diabetes at a young age may raise dementia risk.

Large person having their waist measured by doctor
Although normal insulin production occurs with type 2 diabetes, the body isn’t responding well to it; carrying extra weight also contributes to the body not using insulin well. Photo By Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Type 2 diabetes is all too common in the United States, affecting over 30 million adults and a rising number of children. Diabetes can lead to major problems with organs, including kidney and heart disease, eventually leading to death. A new study suggests that early onset type 2 diabetes may be linked to higher risks of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, later in life.

Type 2 diabetes is often misunderstood—it actually involves the body making insulin in normal, or nearly normal, amounts but not using that insulin properly. In her video series Nutrition Made Clear, Professor Roberta H. Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition and a Clinical Dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, explained other misunderstandings, including misdiagnoses.

In Sickness and in Health

According to Professor Anding, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed by a physician by doing a test of your “fasting blood sugar,” or your blood sugar levels after not eating for a certain period of time. She said the threshold for type 2 diabetes is 126 milligrams per deciliter or an oral glucose tolerance test of greater than 200. Often, high blood sugar is genetic or caused by diet, but sometimes other things can raise the blood sugar and even lead to inappropriate diagnoses of diabetes.

“Other factors that can raise blood sugar are oftentimes not accounted for; we don’t think about them,” Professor Anding said. “First and foremost, medications can raise blood sugar, and they can actually interfere with an appropriate diagnosis. Niacin, for high cholesterol; [and] steroids, including steroids that you’re using to control an illness, can affect blood sugar.”

Additionally, taking estrogen, testosterone, or the anti-seizure medication dilantin can raise blood sugar levels. Medicines aren’t alone in raising blood sugar levels, either.

“Illness will raise your blood sugar,” Professor Anding said. “Fever raises your blood sugar. So what that means is independent of food, physical stress—not the emotional stress of a challenging job, but physical stress, or an insult to the body—can raise blood sugar independent of food.”

No Sugar for Me; I’m Sweet Enough

Many people have a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes.

“Twin studies give us the best look at the genetics of diabetes,” Professor Anding said. “If you’re an identical twin, you share an identical gene pool; if one twin gets diabetes, the chance that the other twin gets diabetes is three out of four, so you have a significantly greater risk. We now have identified multiple genes, loci on genes, that will suggest that, yes, there are some higher risk individuals.”

There isn’t a guaranteed cure for type 2 diabetes, but a famous study called the Diabetes Prevention Study offered some hope and good news.

“I think from the Diabetes Prevention Program [clinical research] study, I think what we can learn is that if I can control all the co-morbidities [associated with diabetes], if I can control the hypertension, and all the things that lead to poor outcome, I would consider that a cure,” Professor Anding said. “I’ve seen individuals whose blood sugars have normalized, their lipids have normalized, and their blood pressure has normalized, by losing weight and exercising and following some of the other dietary recommendations.

“Again, in the medical world, they probably wouldn’t call that a cure. In the nutritional world, I’m going to tell you I would.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily