There is a correlation between Diabetes and Brain functioning and Thinking skills
Diabetics (High Blood sugar), over years, can affect blood vessels, brain structure, nerve cells, supporting cells and overall functioning of ones brain.
Glucose is the key source of energy for the brain cells, but chronic increase in blood glucose level can damage both tiny and large blood vessels, leading to various microvascular and macrovascular complications affecting several organs, including muscle, skin, heart, kidneys and brain.
Diabetes and its effects in Brain functioning and Thinking skills
- Consistently high blood sugar (diabetics) can directly damage nerve cells or supporting cells in the nervous system.
- Damage to large blood vessels of the brain can reduce amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching brain, leading to ischemic stroke, which can permanently damage brain cells.
- Accumulation of Beta-amyloid (protein fragment implicated in Alzheimer’s disease).
Diabetes and Neurocognitive speed and Executive functioning
Neurocognitive speed is how precisely you respond to any situation and Executive functioning is how we plan, control and monitor mental activities.
A 2015 study published in Neurology, found that in just two years diabetes could affect cognitive skills and ability to perform daily activities in elderly.
These are attributed to impaired ability to regulate blood flow. Possible mechanisms are
- Normally, blood flow increases to the area of maximum brain activity. For e.g. if we move our fingers blood flow will increase to the area controlling finger movement. But in diabetes this process gets impaired, affecting blood flow to the required area.
- Also persistent increase in blood sugar makes blood vessels less flexible and less responsive, which can also contribute to impaired blood flow regulation.
- Thirdly fluctuating blood sugar (common in diabetics) can damage cells lining blood vessels and set a cascade of inflammation leading to difficulty in blood flow regulation.
Presently treatment to covert cognitive decline is not available, which warrants a need for new medications or therapies to improve blood vessel sensitivity, cognitive and brain functions amongst type 2 diabetics.
Diabetes and Dementia
Older people with diabetes are 50%+ more likely to develop Dementia (Clinical Geriatric Medicine 2015). Possible mechanisms are
- Insulin resistance may affect body’s ability to break down a protein called amyloid, which can form plaques or clusters in Brain – A precursor to dementia.
- Blood vessel inflammation can reduce transfer of Oxygen and Nutrients to brain leading to Vascular Dementia.
- High blood sugar produces oxygen containing molecules or free radicals, which by increasing oxidative stress can permanently damage brain cells leading to Dementia.
- Longer the patient had diabetes; the more brain volume loss will occur which can lead to onset of Dementia.
Diabetes and Depression
A 2010 study in archives of internal medicine found that diabetes can increase the risk of development of Depression and depression can further aggravate the symptoms of Diabetes.
- Increased glucose can stimulate production of glutamate (neurotransmitter) in the emotion centers of brain (anterior cingulated cortex), which can result in Depression.
Diabetes and Brain aging and shrinkage
Studies have shown that persistent high blood glucose or acute severe reduction of blood glucose (as a side effect of diabetes medication) can cause shrinkage of the grey matter of brain involved in memory, attention and language processing.
- It is seen that diabetes can also affect integrity of White matter and cortical thickness in type 1 diabetes. White matter is the part wherein nerves communicate with each other for higher functions. An inability of this communication of nerves can lead to vascular cognitive impairment or vascular Dementia.
- Also it is seen that Diabetes ages your brain faster than normal. In fact, people with diabetes have brain that is 5 years older than those of age-matched normal individuals (Annals of Internal Medicine 2014).
Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies indicate that type 2 diabetes increase the risk of developing Alzheimer disease by 2 times as compared to normal onset.
Another research has found an increased risk of Alzheimer later in life among people having diabetes in middle age, than those who developed diabetes after age of 65.
In both conditions accumulation of abnormal protein, beta-amyloid which can affect communication of nerve cells is seen.
Presently the knowledge of how diabetes can cause Alzheimer disease is uncertain. But what is certain is that early detection, monitoring and control of blood sugar levels is a mainstay to prevent adverse effects of Diabetes on Brain functioning and Thinking skills.