Keeping Blood Sugar Under Control Could Help Prevent Alzheimer’s

The search for new breakthroughs in the fight against Alzheimer’s is constantly ongoing, but scientists have recently discovered a new connection between how the brain breaks down excess glucose and the severity of amyloid plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

During the study, researchers examined brain tissue samples taken at autopsy and measured the levels of glucose in different brain regions in three groups of participants: those with Alzheimer’s symptoms during life and with confirmed Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain at death, those without symptoms during life but with significant levels of Alzheimer’s pathology found in the brain after death, and a control group of healthy individuals.

The team had already measured the participants’ blood glucose levels years before they died, and then used multiple complex methods to track their brains’ usage of glucose. What they found were strange abnormalities in the mechanism through which the brain breaks down glucose (a process called “glycolysis.”) More severe instances of these abnormalities and higher glucose levels showed strong correlation with the severity of the Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain of the respective patient. These severe abnormalities were also found to correlate more strongly in participants who experienced more severe Alzheimer’s symptoms (such as memory problems) while they were still alive.

Richard J. Hodes, M.D., Director at The National Institute of Aging, stated about the findings, “For some time, researchers have thought about the possible links between how the brain processes glucose and Alzheimer’s. Research such as this involves new thinking about how to investigate these connections in the intensifying search for better and more effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

Indeed, a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and blood glucose levels has been suspected for some time. The Alzheimer’s Association has held the longtime position that while it is not known exactly what causes Alzheimer’s or how it is connected with high blood glucose levels, what is known is that incidence of high blood sugar and/or diabetes can harm the brain in several ways that can contribute to Alzheimer’s, including:

  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke, which harms the heart and blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels in the brain is a known contributor of Alzheimer’s.
  • Chemical imbalance caused by too much insulin, which can help to trigger Alzheimer’s.
  • Inflammation of brain tissue, which harms the brain cells and, in turn, makes the brain less effective at preventing Alzheimer’s from developing.

 

Sources:
National Institutes of Health: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/higher-brain-glucose-levels-may-mean-more-severe-alzheimers
Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/national/documents/latino_brochure_diabetes.pdf