High blood sugar can impair memory, study finds


Rina Shah

A new study, published in the journal Neurology, examined the effects of higher blood sugar levels on memory and the microstructure of the hippocampus.  Focusing on healthy, older individuals without dementia or diabetes, the researchers found that having lower blood sugar levels was significantly correlated with better memory performance.  This was demonstrated on measures of delayed recall, learning ability, and memory consolidation.  Moreover, the researchers found that, even in the absence of blood sugar levels linked to diagnosable type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, the correlation was still present.

In an analysis of the study published in USA Today, it is noted that the study has a relatively small sample size and is not set up to prove cause and effect.  Future research through large clinical trials is needed to test whether or not lowering glucose will help with the prevention of dementia.  The connection to impaired cognitive functioning is not surprising.

An earlier study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined whether or not higher glucose levels without diabetes was a risk factor for dementia.  Diabetes is already a known risk factor for dementia, but this study found a significantly higher risk of dementia in individuals with higher than average blood glucose even if they did not have diabetes.  The findings were based on 2,067 participants without dementia, 232 of which already had diabetes, and follow-up data collected after approximately seven years.

WebMD describes dementia as a loss of mental functions to the point where it interferes with daily functioning.  Dementia is not, on its own, a disease.  Instead, it is a group of symptoms caused by an underlying disease or condition.  In a small number of cases, dementia can be treated because the source is treatable.  Examples of these include dementia caused by substance abuse, prescription medicine combinations, and hormone imbalances.  However, the vast majority of cases are untreatable.

The most common source of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for more than half of all dementia cases.  Recently, doctors have been finding two diseases of the nervous system were originally diagnosed incorrectly as dementia, WebMD reports.  Other causes of dementia include conditions affecting blood vessels and major organs, and brain injury.  It may also be possible to prevent or delay the onset of dementia.  An earlier National Monitor article reports that cognitive exercises can prevent or delay dementia.  In fact, such exercises may even be more helpful for preventing cognitive decline than drugs, Time Magazine reports.

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The most common source of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for more than half of all dementia cases.

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