New research published in the journal Diabetes Care indicates that diabetes patients who are being treated are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, than those who are not being treated. According to study co-author Daniel A. Nation, PhD, of the University of Southern California, “Among people with diabetes, the difference in their rate of developing the signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s is clearly tied somehow to whether or not they are on medication for it.”
The researchers collected data from 1,289 people aged 55 and older, none of whom had signs of dementia. Nine hundred of the participants obtained a lumbar puncture to find evidence of amyloid plaques and what are known as “brain tangles,” both of which are indications of Alzheimer’s. Of the 900 subjects, 121 had Type 2 diabetes. Of these, 67 were being treated and 54 were not. Prediabetes was diagnosed in 250 of the participants in the study.
The researchers found that the subjects with diabetes who were untreated exhibited a greater progression of brain tangles than those who were treated. In fact, the patients with untreated diabetes developed signs of Alzheimer’s 1.6 times faster.
Why was this the case? According to Dr. Nation, “Several diabetes drugs have been linked to protective effects on neurons…. It is possible that the medicines for treating diabetes might make a difference in the progression of brain degeneration. But it’s unclear exactly how those medications might slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so that is something we need to investigate.”
The study raises the tantalizing possibility that diabetes medications might even help people who don’t have diabetes ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Nation, however, doubts that’s probable. He thinks it’s more likely that the drugs prevent only “diabetes-related brain injury.”