Researchers have found yet another reason to try preventing type 2 diabetes.

Statistics indicate that people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. This is concerning for physicians as the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as well as Alzheimer's disease has been increasing for years and is expected to continue rising as a result of aging, genes and lifestyle behaviors.

  • There are about 21 million Americans with diabetes; this is about 1 in 10 people, of which 95 percent are type 2.
  • Diabetes is expected to rise to 1 in 3 people by 2050.
  • About 4.5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer's disease; this equals about 1 in 10 people over age 65 and 5 in 10 over age 85.
  • Experts believe that Alzheimer's will reach about 16 million Americans by 2050.
Studies conducted over the last several years suggest that insulin resistance has ties to Alzheimer's disease. In fact, a study from The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania that was published in the March 2012 edition of The Journal of Clinical Investigation cites that insulin resistance in the brain surpasses other known causes of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Researchers found that insulin helps maintain healthy brain cells; therefore, a resistance to or lack of insulin impairs the healthy growth, functioning and survival of brain cells.

In the case of type 2 diabetes, the cells respond poorly to insulin and slowly become resistant to it. As a result, sugar remains in the blood stream and rises to abnormally high levels which can affect certain proteins in the brain.

Scientifically speaking, amyloids are proteins that help nerve cells adapt to new conditions and oversee the formation of synapses, which are the junctions where nerve cells pass signals to each other. If a gene or lifestyle damages your DNA, amyloids can produce beta amyloid, an alternate protein that divides abnormally, causing an overabundance in the brain. The beta amyloids accumulate in the spaces between the nerve cells, stick together and form a toxic plaque that is believed to strip the brain cells of their insulin receptors. High blood sugar seems to aggravate the effects of the beta amyloids, ultimately causing insulin resistance of the brain which damages nerve cells, synapses and nerve cell communication. Over time, this impacts cognitive functions like perceiving, learning, remembering, judging and problem solving.

Additionally, statistics suggesting that diabetes and Alzheimer's run in families prompted scientists to identify the genes associated with developing type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, including SorCS1, a gene recently linked to both diseases. It is important to understand the mechanisms and genetics of a disease so physicians can educate you on controllable risk factors and order the appropriate early detection screenings.

Although you cannot change your inherited risk for these diseases, you can take steps to try preventing and/or controlling your blood sugar levels. Work with your MDVIP-affiliated physician to tailor nutrition, exercise, weight management and stress-relief programs that best suit your needs and reduce your risks.