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Type 2 Diabetes May Shrink the Brain

Loss of gray matter can lead to dementia, experts say
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In fact, for every 10 years someone had diabetes, it looked as if the brain was about two years older than the brain of someone without diabetes, according to Bryan.

It's important to note that this study only found an association between type 2 diabetes and greater and faster brain volume loss, and it wasn't able to prove that type 2 diabetes was the cause of the brain shrinkage.

The report was published in the April 29 online edition of Radiology.

Dr. Souhel Najjar, director of neuroscience and stroke at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City said, "Given the increasing public health burden of type 2 diabetes, the findings of this research are very important as they link diabetes directly to brain atrophy, underscoring the importance of primary prevention and early management of diabetes in reducing the burden of dementia, particularly in older population."

This brain loss may lead to an earlier onset of dementia, another expert noted.

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said, "This is a very timely paper. There is a lot of interest and a lot of confusion about the mental impairment that accompanies type 2 diabetes."

This study suggests that chronic high levels of insulin and sugar may be directly toxic to brain cells, he said. "This would definitely be a potential cause of dementia."

Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that the brain shrinkage also might be due to low blood sugar, which is a common problem for people with diabetes and can be as damaging as high blood sugar.

"Diabetes over time also affects the brain, and can lead to thinking and memory problems like Alzheimer's disease. We need to control diabetes as soon as possible so that patients don't have brain problems," Mezitis said.

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