As if having Type 2 diabetes wasn’t bad enough, there’s now evidence that diabetes contributes to a reduction in the size of your brain.
According to new research, the onset of Type 2 diabetes in middle age, especially when combined with high blood pressure, may actually reduce the size of your brain, when compared to those who do not have diabetes. Those who developed diabetes after 65 showed no significant brain impact from the disease, suggesting that the damage is caused over decades.
What’s the impact of diabetes over decades? Diminished memory and early onset of dementia.
Cognitive decline goes hand-in-hand with aging. When diabetes is added to the mix, this decline accelerates. Diabetes is thought to hamper blood circulation and weaken tiny blood vessels in the brain, which causes tissue damage and necrosis (tissue death). This new research suggests that the altered glucose metabolism in the brains of diabetics may also lead to the decay of neurons, the cells which transmit signals between nerves. In either case, the progressive brain damage leads to diminished mental functions required for day-to-day tasks – like taking your diabetes medicine. Forgetfulness then creates a vicious cycle of poor blood sugar management, which in turn worsens the decline in cognitive abilities. The end resut may be dementia, Alzheimer’s, or stroke.
How big is the difference between diabetic and non-diabetic brains? On average, those who developed diabetes in middle age had brains that were nearly 3 percent smaller, and their hippocampi were 4 percent smaller than those of non-diabetics. The hippocampus is the area of the brain which controls emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system, responsible for functions like digestion, breathing, and heartbeat.
“When your hippocampus begins to shrink, you begin to lose your long-term memory and your ability to remember recent events,” said Roberts, who also is a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “If you have type 2 diabetes, you have an increased risk of brain damage, but if you control your diabetes well, it should reduce the damage that is being caused in your brain.” And people with high blood pressure in midlife were twice as likely to have damage caused by micro-strokes to the hippocampus.
The bottom line? If you develop hypertension or Type 2 diabetes around middle age or younger, you can limit its impact on your brain – and all of your other organs for that matter – by controlling your blood sugar with exercise, diet, and medication.