Scientists think there are a few ways that problems with blood sugar control can lead to problems with your memory and thinking.
- Your cells don't get the fuel they need, so your brain can't work right.
- Your blood sugar goes up, and over time, that can cause harmful fatty deposits in your blood vessels.
- Too much insulin can throw off the balance of chemicals in your brain.
Inflammation and Blood Vessel Damage
With diabetes, you're at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke. And high blood sugar levels can trigger inflammation. None of that is good for your blood vessels. Damaged vessels in your brain could lead to Alzheimer's.
Blocked Nerve Communication
High blood sugar has been linked to higher levels of protein pieces called beta amyloid. When these clump together, they get stuck between the nerve cells in your brain and block signals. Nerve cells that can't talk to each other is a main trait of Alzheimer's.
Tangled Tau Protein
Your cells are constantly moving food and other supplies along pathways like railroad tracks. A protein called tau helps these tracks that run into, out of, and through the cells stay in straight rows.
But in a brain with Alzheimer's, tau gets tangled up. The tracks fall apart, and cells die because they can't move stuff to where they need it.
Some studies suggest that people with diabetes have more tangled tau in their brains. That could mean they have more dying cells in their brains, which can lead to dementia.
What You Can Do
Manage your blood sugar levels. A few studies lead some scientists to believe that keeping your A1c below 7% may help your brain stay well.
Work out. Exercise will help your cells use insulin better and help you manage your blood sugar and avoid too much insulin in your blood and brain. Physical activity brings oxygen-rich blood to your brain, and it lowers your risk of heart disease.
Maybe metformin. In a study of more than 15,000 people older than 55 who had type 2 diabetes, those who took metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza, Riomet) were less likely to get Alzheimer's and other types of dementia than those who took other diabetes drugs.