Understanding diabetes

In 2012, 9.3 percent of people in the United States had diabetes. That means that about 29.1 million Americans had diabetes in 2012. This number is growing. Every year, doctors diagnose an estimated 1.4 million new cases in the United States.

Diabetes is a disease that involves having higher-than-normal blood glucose levels. This is known as hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia occurs when your body can’t produce or respond to insulin. Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Because of the reduced insulin production or resistance to the hormone, blood sugar levels tend to be high.

Type 1 diabetes

This is also known as juvenile diabetes. An autoimmune process may cause type 1 diabetes. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body’s antibodies attack the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. You need insulin to help glucose molecules enter the cells. Once glucose enters the cells, your body can use it to create energy. People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce adequate amounts of insulin. This leads to higher than normal levels of blood sugar.

Insulin injections are a necessary part of life for people living with type 1 diabetes. As of 2012, approximately 1.25 million Americans had type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

This is the most common form of diabetes worldwide. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body produces insulin, but it can’t use it in the way that it should. This resistance causes the pancreas to produce more insulin. The added insulin increases the hormone levels in the bloodstream. This can have long-term negative effects on the brain.

Check out: Diabetes by the numbers: Facts, statistics, and you »

Understanding memory loss

Memory loss is a normal phenomenon of aging. There are differences between memory loss that occurs with age and the complex memory changes caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other related degenerative diseases.

Forgetting names and misplacing objects are both associated with age-related memory loss. These symptoms typically won’t impact your ability to live independently.

More serious symptoms of memory loss can include:

  • forgetting commonly used words, sometimes while speaking
  • repeating the same questions
  • getting lost while walking or driving
  • experiencing sudden mood changes
  • being unable to follow directions

These symptoms point to the possible onset of dementia. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Together, you can figure out what’s causing your symptoms.

The most common type of dementia is AD. Recent research has suggested that AD may be strongly connected to having high blood sugar levels.

How diabetes relates to memory loss

Memory loss and general cognitive impairment, which are both symptoms of AD, may be connected to type 2 diabetes. Damage to the blood vessels is common in people with diabetes. This damage can lead to cognitive problems and vascular dementia. These are often seen with symptoms of AD.

The results of one study show that AD is closely connected to insulin signaling and glucose metabolism in the brain. The brain contains insulin receptors. These structures recognize insulin. Insulin affects cognition and memory. When the insulin in your body is imbalanced, it increases your risk for AD. This imbalance can occur in people with type 2 diabetes.

Scientists also looked at how symptoms of metabolic syndrome affect memory. Metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of the syndrome can include:

  • increased blood pressure
  • high blood sugar levels
  • abnormal cholesterol levels
  • increased body fat especially around the waist

The study concluded that the connection between high levels of sugar and AD goes both ways. People with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing AD. People with AD often develop hyperglycemia and insulin resistance.

These conclusions are reinforced by a review published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. Although researchers don’t know the full extent of the connection at this time, the connection between insulin signaling and Alzheimer’s disease is clear.

Keep reading: Old age or something else? 10 Early signs of dementia »

What is the outlook?

Once your doctor has determined the cause of your memory loss, they’ll work with you to create your treatment plan. This may include lifestyle changes if you’re at risk for or have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

If AD causes your memory loss, your doctor may recommend cholinesterase inhibitors to start. These inhibitors tend to delay the worsening of symptoms and can improve functionality in people with dementia. Depending on how the disease is progressing, they may prescribe additional medication.

Tips to limit or prevent memory loss

Follow these tips to improve brain cognition and prevent memory loss

Switch to a wholesome diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. You should also limit your intake of high-fat foods. This is known as “the Mediterranean diet.” This diet has been connected to a lower risk of chronic degenerative diseases such as AD.

Add more omega-3 fatty acids your diet. Omega-3s have may help improve heart health and prevent cognitive decline.

Treatments from traditional Chinese medicine have had positive results in managing the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Active compounds such as berberine or the ones found in ginseng and bitter melon may help with glucose and lipid metabolism.

You should check with your doctor before taking any supplements. If you consult an alternative health practitioner, make sure to keep a list of all supplements that you’re taking and consult with your doctor. You should discuss any possible interactions with other medication you may be taking.