By Amy Norton
health day reporter

TUESDAY, May 31, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Type 2 diabetes is linked to problems with memory and thinking, and a new study suggests that’s because the disease hastens brain aging.

Looking at data from 20,000 middle-aged and older adults, the researchers found that, consistent with previous studies, people with type 2 diabetes generally performed worse on tests of memory and thinking ability than people with diabetes. people without diabetes.

Beyond that, MRI scans revealed differences in brain regions related to these skills: People with diabetes had more tissue shrinkage, akin to a 26% acceleration of normal body aging. brain.

It is well known that brain tissue gradually shrinks as we age, with some areas shrinking more and faster than others.

The new findings show that people with diabetes have atrophy in the same brain areas as other people their age, said lead researcher Lilianne Mujica-Parodi. But this aging effect happens faster.

“It’s like wasting 10 years,” said Mujica-Parodi, a professor at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York.

The results – published May 24 in the medical journal eLife — add to a body of research on diabetes and brain health. This includes many studies linking diabetes to a more rapid decline in mental acuity in older people and a higher risk of dementia.

In type 2 diabetes, the body cannot properly use the hormone insulin, which allows cells in the body to consume glucose (sugar) for energy. As a result, blood sugar levels are chronically high, which can damage blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. People with the disease are at risk for serious complications such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.

But the diabetes-brain connection goes beyond that, according to Mujica-Parodi. The brain is a “huge consumer” of glucose, she said, and if brain cells (neurons) can’t use insulin, they’re in trouble.

“If you starve a neuron, it will atrophy,” Mujica-Parodi said. She suspects that it is this deprivation of neurons, rather than damage to blood vessels, that is the primary driving force behind faster brain aging.

The findings are based on just over 20,000 adults, aged between 50 and 80, who were part of an ongoing research project called UK Biobank. They passed standard tests of cognitive abilities such as memory, information processing speed and executive function – skills such as planning and organization, which we use to complete daily tasks.

A smaller group also underwent brain MRIs.

On average, the study found that people with type 2 diabetes scored lower on cognitive tests, compared to people without diabetes of the same age, gender and education level. Their executive function scores were 13% lower and their processing speed performance was nearly 7% lower.

On MRI, both groups showed age-related tissue thinning in the same areas of the brain, particularly a region called the ventral striatum, which is critical for executive function. But people with diabetes had a greater degree of atrophy.

The findings suggest that people with diabetes exhibit “accelerated aging” in the brain, said Michal Beeri, a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Beeri, who was not involved in the research, studies the relationship between diabetes and mental performance. She said she believes cerebrovascular disease – damage to the blood vessels supplying the brain – is the main reason diabetes drains mental acuity.

But it’s possible, Beeri said, that multiple mechanisms, including neuron starvation, are at work.

Whatever the underlying reasons, she and Mujica-Parodi pointed to the connection between the brain and the rest of the body.

“We tend to think of the body and the brain as two separate things,” although that’s clearly not the case, Mujica-Parodi said.

“There’s no reason to think your diabetes stops at your neck,” Beeri agreed. “I’m surprised that when doctors talk to their patients with diabetes, they often don’t talk about brain health.”

If Diabetes Contributes to Cognitive Decline, Does Diabetes Treatment Help?

“In theory, good blood sugar control should reduce the risk,” Beeri said.

Studies have linked the use of diabetes medications, such as metformin, to a lower risk of mental decline. But, Beeri said, these studies don’t prove that the drugs themselves deserve the credit.

Clinical trials testing metformin and some other diabetes drugs for brain benefits are ongoing.

In the current study, metformin use was not linked to any brain protection. But, Mujica-Parodi said, this finding is not conclusive.

Plus, Beeri said, good diabetes control is important for many reasons, and it’s “something people should be doing anyway.”

Prevention, however, is ideal, Beeri stressed. Some risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as older age and family history, cannot be changed. But healthy eating, exercise and weight loss can go a long way in preventing the disease, she said.

More information

The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation has more information on protecting brain health.

SOURCES: Lilianne Mujica-Parodi, PhD, professor, biomedical engineering and director, Computational Neurodiagnostics Laboratory, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY; Michal Schnaider Beeri, PhD, professor of psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; eLifeMay 24, 2022, online