Is diabetes shrinking your brain?

By: Matt McGovern Email
By: Matt McGovern Email
Illness may be a risk factor for Alzheimer

When the brain shrinks, it's often because valuable brain cells that help us think and remember are dying.

(CNN) - It's not a secret that some diabetics also have memory issues, but a new study suggests it's not just due to clogging of blood vessels....your brain may actually be shrinking.

When the brain shrinks, it's often because valuable brain cells that help us think and remember are dying. A loss of brain cells is a hallmark for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

In this new study, published in the journal Radiology, researchers looked at brain scans from a little more than 600 people age 55 and older with type 2 diabetes. They found that patients who lived with diabetes the longest had smaller brain volumes.

Up until about five years ago, experts thought memory and cognitive problems related to diabetes were largely due to problems with blood clots in the brain. But Bryan's new imaging study builds on other research, which points to brain shrinkage as a potentially stronger link to the development of cognitive decline in diabetics.

Scientists are still trying to understand why cells are dying. Their best guess is that it's related to both too little and too much glucose in the brain. Glucose is the brain's food and when you have diabetes, brain cells may not be getting enough nutrients, so they can die. Another possibility is that too much glucose in the brain can also kill cells.

The brain of a diabetic "metabolizes glucose and oxygen differently than people who don't have diabetes," says Bryan, because destructive free radicals are possibly produced.

Some advice to diabetics is to keep the condition under control: "Exercise, eat right, go to your doctor, lose weight if you need to and take your medicine." These lifestyle changes won't prevent the brain shrinkage, Musen says, but they will slow down the process, and the sooner you start, the better.


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