Age-Related Cognitive Decline May Be Linked to High Blood Sugar Levels
< Dec. 31, 2008 > -- Rising blood glucose levels have been identified by scientists as a possible contributing factor in age-related cognitive decline.
A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology establishes that rising blood sugar levels, a normal part of aging, affect a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This area of the brain is critical to learning, memory, and other cognitive functions.
Maintaining Optimal Blood Sugar Levels
Senior study author Dr. Scott Small, an associate professor of neurology at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City states, "This would suggest that anything to improve regulation of blood glucose would potentially be a way to ameliorate age-related memory decline".
The findings may also help explain why people who exercise do not have as many cognitive problems as they age. The implication is that exercising helps to stabilize blood glucose levels and helps maintain cognitive function.
Exercise and Its Impact on Blood Glucose
Rising blood sugar levels may be a risk factor for mental decline, but it is good news that this problem is usually amenable to change. Physical exercise might just be an uncomplicated, yet effective antidote.
"We had previously shown that physical exercise strengthens a part of the brain involved with aging but, at the time, we didn't know why physical exercise would have this selective benefit," Dr. Small says. "Now we have a proposed mechanism. We think it's because subjects who exercised had better glucose handling."
New Insight On Specific Brain Region
It is well known that damage to the hippocampus is evident with Alzheimer's disease, and there has been some suggestion that this region of the brain is also affected by normal aging. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to record the functioning of the hippocampus in 240 healthy older people with an average age close to 80. Sixty of the participants had type 2 diabetes, while 74 had brain "infarcts" - some damage to brain tissue.
The studies indicate that diabetes and infarcts are each linked with separate areas of the hippocampus, suggesting that different mechanisms are at work in each disorder. These findings were subsequently confirmed in animal studies.
"The paper identifies an etiology [cause] for normal age-related memory decline," Small explains. "Elevations in blood glucose levels differentially target the dentate gyrus part of the hippocampus implicated in aging and, as we age, we develop a slight but gradually worsening difficulty in handling blood sugar levels."
Further Research Expected
At this time, expert opinion has not reached a final consensus. Some experts such as Dr. Bryan Freilich, a clinical neuropsychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City encourages continued research. He says, "In my opinion, that's an interesting hypothesis and needs to be studied - that exercise helps improve cognitive functioning through that mechanism, but I think there are other mechanisms as well".
This early study may provide useful clinical information. Dr. Mark Mapstone, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, says: "If these findings are replicated and confirmed, I think the implications could be very important, specifically, that maintaining optimal blood sugar levels throughout aging is a feasible way to [slow or prevent] cognitive decline. It goes beyond diabetes to look at people who don't have diabetes. The implication is even if you don't have a clinical condition of diabetes, that you can still do something about cognitive aging."
Always consult your physician for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
What Is Blood Glucose Monitoring?
Blood glucose levels, also called blood sugar levels, are signs of how well diabetes is being controlled and how well the plan of care is working. Checking blood glucose levels regularly is very important in proper diabetes management. Current methods of blood sugar monitoring require a blood sample. Blood sugar monitoring can be done at home with a variety of devices to obtain the blood sample.
People with diabetes may have to check their blood sugar levels up to four times a day. Blood sugar levels can be affected by several factors, including diet, diabetes medication, exercise, and illness.
Most people check their blood sugar level by pricking the finger and using a drop of blood. A finger prick can be done with a special needle called a lancet or with a spring-loaded lancet device that punctures the fingertip quickly. The drop of blood is placed on a test strip that is then placed in a blood glucose monitor device which reads the blood sugar level.
There are many types of monitors on the market today, ranging in price, ease of use, size, portability, and length of testing time. Each monitor requires its own type of testing strip. Blood glucose monitors have been found to be accurate and reliable if correctly used, and most monitors provide results within two minutes. Some glucose monitors can also give verbal testing instructions and verbal test results for people who are visually or physically impaired. There are also glucose monitors available that provide verbal instructions in Spanish and other languages.
Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is important in the management of diabetes. Blood sugar levels over 200 mg/dL (mg/dL = milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) or under 60 mg/dL are considered unhealthy.
High blood sugar levels (above 200 mg/dL) may be a sign of inadequate levels of insulin, caused by diabetes medication, overeating, lack of exercise, or other factors.
Low blood sugar levels (below 60 mg/dL) may be caused by taking too much insulin, skipping or postponing a meal, over-exercising, excessive alcohol consumption, or other factors.
Persons with diabetes must stay alert for symptoms that can lead to clinical complications. Making good health choices such as getting regular check-ups, carefully self-monitoring blood sugar, controlling your weight, eating healthy, and getting regular exercise can keep you on the right track.
Always consult your physician for more information.
(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)