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Blood Sugar Levels Linked to Elderly Brain Activity

By Daniel H. Rasolt

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2009

(Defeat Diabetes® News) -- Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, both in diabetics and non-diabetics, plays a significant role in "cognitive aging," according to a Columbia University study. The researchers found that mental events in elderly individuals, such as the famed "senior moment," are associated in many cases with irregular blood sugar levels, and could potentially be avoided with proper exercise.
High blood sugar levels are a common characteristic of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but also become more prevalent as one grows older. These rising blood sugar levels are often due to lessened activity and decreased metabolism, resulting in weight gain, that is often associated with aging individuals. Lead researcher Dr. Scott Small says of his study, "this is news even for people without diabetes since blood glucose levels tend to rise as we grow older. Whether through physical exercise, diet or drugs, our research suggests that improving glucose metabolism could help some of us avert the cognitive slide that occurs in many of us as we age."
The study analyzed high-resolution images of the brain, focused on an area called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory and comprehension, and it´s decreased function has been linked to normal mental deterioration that comes with age. Specifically, past research by Dr. Small and his team revealed that a portion of the hippocampus, the dentate gyrus, is most responsible for memory loss that comes with age. For reference, Alzheimer´s disease in fact damages the hippocampus, leading to the associated dementia.
The hippocampal images, taken of both humans and animals, specifically were intended to look at regions associated with diabetes and stroke, two conditions that are more prevalent with age. According to researcher Dr. Marcelle Morrison-Bogard, "This research used imaging in both human volunteers and in animal models to help us better understand the basic mechanisms behind hippocampal dysfunction in the aged." Four physical characteristics that often change with age were analyzed in each participant: Insulin levels, body mass index (BMI, used to characterize identify obesity), cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It was found that only high blood sugar levels were associated with decreased function of the dentate gyrus. Speaking of this important finding, Dr. Small claims that "showing for the first time that blood glucose selectively targets the dentate gyrus is not only our most conclusive finding, but it is the most important for 'normal' aging- that is hippocampal dysfunction that occurs in the absence of any disease states. There have been many proposed reasons for age-related hippocampal decline; this new study suggests that we may now know one of them."
Dr. Small and his team were able to draw several conclusions from the findings. They believe that exercise, and other forms of improved glucose metabolism, should help the cognitive aging of diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Dr. Small states that "by improving glucose metabolism, physical exercise also reduces blood glucose. It is therefore possible that the cognitive enhancing effects of physical exercise are mediated, at least in part, by the beneficial effect of lower glucose on the dentate gyrus. Whether with physical exercise, diet or through the development of potential pharmacological interventions, our research suggests that improving glucose metabolism could be a clinically viable approach for improving the cognitive slide that occurs in many of us as we age."

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Small, Scott. Morrison-Bogard, Marcelle. Eskanazi, Karen. Columbia University Medical Center news release. December 2008.

Daniel H. Rasolt writes for Defeat Diabetes® News. Read more of his original content articles.

Copyright © 2009 Defeat Diabetes Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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