Alzheimer's Disease Impairs Insulin Signaling, May Increase Diabetes Risk

Caregiver, patient expert

_According to the latest research, the long-held theory that diabetes may cause Alzheimer’s could prove to be the reverse, at least in some cases. _

In the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai published study results suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) impairs insulin signaling in the area of the brain that is responsible for regulating metabolism. The study finds this impaired signaling makes a person with Alzheimer’s disease more susceptible to diabetes.

Before this, an abundance of studies, including one that lasted nine years, concluded that diabetes significantly increased a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, while avoiding diabetes or keeping it under control lowered one’s risk.

The lead author of the study was Christoph Buettner, MD, PhD. He’s Associate Professor of Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes, Bone Disease and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Buettner told Science Daily, “This is the first study to suggest that Alzheimer’s disease pathology increases susceptibility to diabetes due to impaired insulin signaling in the hypothalamus.”

As part of continuing research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to better understand the link between AD and diabetes, the researchers studied the effects using laboratory mice.

It’s important to note that while mice are frequently used as study models, not all information gained from the mice studies will prove to be true in humans. Still, mice studies are a place to begin and many times the information gained does prove to relate to humans or at least guide researchers in their further studies.

The results of the Mount Sinai study weren’t what the researchers expected.Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry and co-author of the study, tells Science Daily, “Our findings represent a** turning point** in the understanding of the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease...diabetes and insulin resistance...Compelling and unexpected results such as Dr. Buettner’s are driving a complete re-evaluation of how these diseases interact.”

Age is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, just as it is a risk factor for developing diabetes. Additionally, not everyone who develops Alzheimer’s develops diabetes and not everyone who develops diabetes and fails to control it will develop Alzheimer’s. For now, what is being studied is risk factors and how they interrelate between the two diseases.

Meanwhile, for the purposes of general health and wellbeing, as we age, it pays to eat well, manage our weight and get plenty of exercise. These lifestyle efforts -- or changes if we aren’t already making those efforts -- should help many of us age better regardless of whether we develop Alzheimer's, or diabetes, or both, or neither. Researchers will sort it out.

As always, if you have health problems, check with your doctor before setting out on a strenuous exercise routine.

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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at Follow Carol on Twitter@mindingourelderand on FacebookMinding Our Elders.