Study Shows Insulin Can Help Protect Brain From Alzheimer’s

  • My area of the country has a relatively high rate of diabetes. When I was spending a good portion of every day in a local nursing home, taking care of the needs of family elders, I would often see quite young folks in wheelchairs, recovering from foot surgery or even an amputation due to diabetes. Blindness and other serious consequences of diabetes are well known. Now, however, there is evidence that a type of Alzheimer's can also be a consequence of diabetes.


    In a story on titled, "Insulin protects brain from Alzheimer's - US study," writer Julie Steenhuysen reports on a study that showed insulin protects the brain from Alzheimer's. William Klein, of Northwestern University, who authored a study that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was quoted in the article as saying "Our results demonstrate that bolstering insulin signaling can protect neurons from harm. According to the article, the findings of the study support building evidence that Alzheimer's is "a type of diabetes of the brain."

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    Most people are aware of Type 1 diabetes, where the pancreas doesn't make the insulin the body needs. Also well known is Type 2 diabetes, which generally comes on with age. A person's tissues gradually become less sensitive to insulin as receptors develop problems. Now, this study concludes there is a Type 3 diabetes where the receptor problem is localized in the brain.


    Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have, in the past, reported findings that showed diabetics who take insulin plus another diabetes medication have a lower rate of Alzheimer's than diabetics who take only insulin. That study included several types of diabetes pills, including an older pill, sulfonylurea, as well as newer medications like rosiglitazone (Avandia), which increase the body's sensitivity to insulin.


    Other studies have shown that diabetics have a higher risk of Alzheimer's than the rest of the population. This, of course, is added incentive for people with diabetes to take great care in controlling their disease. The findings also imply that people should do what they can to avoid diabetes, if possible, including diet and exercise. These same steps have been shown to help improve chances of avoiding Alzheimer's disease. 


    Once again, there is evidence that we can help ourselves stay healthy. Some people will develop diabetes no matter what they do. Some people will develop Alzheimer's no matter what they do. However, until there is a known way to prevent and or cure the diseases, it's good to know that there are some things under our control.


    It looks like exercise may not only help prevent Alzheimer's because of increased blood flow to the brain. It's beginning to appear that it may help those of us at risk of diabetes because of age also avoid the changes in the brain that come with insulin resistance.


    Here's one more reason to jog, run, use a treadmill or a bicycle. One more reason to get in those aerobics. One more reason to take care of our general health, with the hope that we can avoid more than the best known health issues, like heart disease. We may be able to avoid Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's, as well. Those are pretty good reasons to get moving.


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Published On: February 09, 2009