A new study out of Harvard University is suggesting that there may be a link between type 2 diabetes and cognitive function. The disease is commonly associated with both decreased blood flow regulation and increased tissue inflammation, which could, in the long run, have detrimental effects on individuals’ mental activity.
When functioning properly, the body should auto-regulate blood flow. This is important during times of increased brain activity when the volume of oxygen and sugar being sent to the brain should also increase. The inflammation frequently experienced by individuals with diabetes weakens this function, resulting in cognitive impairment.
The research, which was recently published in the medical journal Neurology, found that the disease could take a drastic toll on the brain in as few as two years. The study featured 40 people with an average age of 66. Half of the participants had type 2 diabetes that they had been managing for the majority of their lives. At the beginning of the study, participants were given a series of neurological tests, including MRI scans, blood tests, and measurements of cognitive function.
After two years, participants were administered the same tests. The results depicted a stark contrast between the 33 people with diabetes in comparison to those without. The former showed an overall decrease in gray matter volume and a decline in test performance. Sixty-five percent of participants with diabetes showed an increase in blood flow impairment, and those with the greatest increases demonstrated trouble performing their daily activities.
While these results are from a very small study, they do reveal a potentially worrisome correlation between type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline over time. While this relationship does not seem to be weakened by consistent glucose control, scientists are experimenting with injections of insulin into the brain to slow, or even halt, the reduction of cognitive abilities.
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