Type 2 diabetes has become an increasingly prevalent health issue worldwide.
While many people are already aware of the disease’s impact on blood sugar levels and cardiovascular health, it may be time to add brain health as a leading concern.
A recent study from 2022 has shed light on the startling connection between type 2 diabetes and accelerated brain aging.
Type 2 Diabetes and Cognitive Decline
The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, which included cognitive and neuroimaging data for over 20,000 participants.
They discovered that individuals with type 3 diabetes showed measurable cognitive deficits, particularly in executive functioning and processing speed, when compared to healthy controls.
Gray matter atrophy—a reduction in the size of brain cells—was observed primarily in the ventral striatum, cerebellum, and putamen, which are regions known to be involved in motor control and learning.
The structural and functional changes associated with type 2 diabetes were found to overlap with those related to normal aging. However, the progression of brain aging in people with diabetes was approximately 26% faster than in healthy individuals.
And the longer someone had the disease, the more severe the neurodegeneration.
Metformin Treatment and Brain Health
The study also evaluated the effect of metformin treatment on the identified neurocognitive effects.
Metformin is a commonly prescribed medication for managing type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, the results showed that metformin treatment was not associated with improved neurocognitive outcomes. This highlights the need for more research on the effects of T2DM treatments on brain health.
Why Does Type 2 Diabetes Accelerate Brain Aging?
While the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the researchers suggest that a neurometabolic component may play a significant role in brain aging.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and chronic high blood sugar levels. Over time, these factors can lead to inflammation, oxidative stress, and damage to blood vessels, which can, in turn, harm the brain.
High blood sugar levels can also contribute to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These molecules can potentially accumulate in the brain and disrupt cellular function, leading to cognitive decline and other neurological issues.
Managing Diabetes for Better Brain Health
The findings from this study underscore the importance of managing diabetes for overall brain health. While further research is needed to understand the full extent of T2DM’s impact on the brain, there are steps that individuals can take to minimize the risk of cognitive decline:
- Blood sugar control: Keeping blood sugar levels within the recommended range is crucial to minimize the risk of cognitive decline associated with T2DM. Work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized diabetes management plan.
- Physical activity: Regular exercise has been shown to improve brain health and cognitive function in adults, including those with T2DM. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with strength training and flexibility exercises.
- Healthy diet: A balanced diet that is low in added sugars and saturated fats is essential for managing diabetes and promoting brain health. Focus on whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Mental stimulation: Engage in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, puzzles, creative art, or learning a new skill to help maintain cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Stress management: Chronic stress can negatively impact both diabetes management and brain health. Incorporate stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or therapy into your daily routine.
- Regular check-ups: Maintain regular appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your diabetes management, identify any changes in your cognitive health, and address any concerns as they arise.
While this recent study reveals a worrying trend, taking proactive steps to manage diabetes and maintain a healthy lifestyle can help mitigate the risks and protect cognitive function as we age.