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Diabetes and the Brain: Many Unknowns continued...

"I think it's a real stretch to call Alzheimer's disease type 3 diabetes," says Janet B. McGill, MD, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "We just don't have the evidence."

Kalyani agrees. "We need more research," she says.

Kalyani notes that it's hard to tease out the effects of diabetes from those of conditions linked to diabetes. "High blood pressure and obesity often go along with diabetes," she says. "It's possible that they could play a role in the increased risk of Alzheimer's disease."

What Should You Do?

Research is looking into whether some drugs used to treat diabetes could help prevent drops in mental skills like remembering and learning. But good blood sugar control can help you lower your chance of other long-term problems that are strongly linked to diabetes, such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and heart problems. And some research suggests it may also help keep your memory sharp.

"There is good news," Kahn says. "Many of the health changes that we associate with diabetes are reversible to a significant extent." Getting more exercise, eating healthier, losing weight if you need to, and sometimes taking a prescribed drug can delay or even prevent other health problems diabetes can cause. For now, that may be the best way to fight problems with thinking or memory, too.

"People with diabetes can sometimes feel helpless," Kalyani says. "But actually, diabetes is a disease that people have some control over."