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Could treating diabetes prevent Alzheimer’s?

India faces sharply rising numbers of diabetes cases. For many people the disease is poorly managed due to a lack of knowledge – with wide-reaching health implications. One of these could be increased Alzheimer’s rates, as suggested by a new study.

Image ID: 31970629 (L)The study, carried out by the University of Southern California (USC), found that Alzheimer’s disease developed 1.6 times faster in those who had untreated diabetes, when compared to those who did not have the condition.

Current estimates place the number of patients with dementia in India at around four million. Worldwide numbers of dementia cases are estimated to hit 131.5 million by 2050. Alongside other noncommunicable conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease cases have soared in India in recent years. The USC study indicates that these factors may be correlated, with Alzheimer’s cases rising potentially as a result of the rising number of individuals with untreated diabetes.

“It is possible that the medicines for treating diabetes might make a difference in the progression of brain degeneration,” said Daniel A. Nation, Associate Professor at University of Southern California. “But it’s unclear how exactly those medications might slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so that is something we need to investigate,” he added.

The research focused on the analysis of brain scans for instances of tau pathology. Dysfunction within the tau protein is one of the key theories for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The theory states that these elongated proteins can tangle within neurons. This can cause a number of issues such as complications within neuronal signalling. This can result in impaired brain processes and can even lead to cell death within the brain, hence the gradual degenerative nature of the disease.

It was found that those with diabetes but who were effectively treated for the condition did not show the same levels of accelerated Alzheimer’s progression. “Our findings emphasise the importance of catching diabetes or other metabolic diseases in adults as early as you can,” said Dr Nation.

It may be the case that pathology is similar to blindness associated with diabetes, in which small blood vessels in the eyes are damaged by chronic levels of high blood glucose content. In theory, small blood vessels in the brain may be affected in a similar manner.

More research is warranted in this area, as the correlation could indicate potentially millions of individuals across the globe are at risk of accelerated onset of dementia. This would lend fresh urgency to the need to increase efforts to screen for diabetes and raise awareness of the risk factors for developing the disease, given the health complications that can arise from untreated diabetes – many of which we are continuing to discover.

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