Keeping Your Brain Sharp – Diabetes is a Close Cousin to Alzheimer’s!

December 27, 2007

Keeping Your Brain Sharp – Diabetes is a Close Cousin to Alzheimer’s! 

Reference: Online Journal FASEB, published August 24, William Klein, reported in Scientific American, Date:  12/07 

 Diabetes is like Alzheimer’s!  Wow!  I’ve not heard that before.  We have known for a while that the rate of diabetes is climbing at a terrible pace in line with our getting heavier.  And we also have known that dementia is increasing with dire predictions about the number of future citizens that will get it.  And if there is anything than motivates me to change behavior, it’s the terror of getting Alzheimer’s.  

We all joke about how a nice quick heart attack sure beats 10 years in a nursing home recognizing no one around us.   I don’t want long life without quality of life. The link?  It goes like this.  

Researchers at Northwestern have found a very interesting phenomenon.  Our blood contains tiny little proteins called ADDLs (amyloid beta-derived diffusable ligands).  These are small proteins that act like hormones because they circulate around the body instead of staying put.  They are also found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients in abundance.  No one has really known what they are doing there.  The Northwestern team found that they attach tightly to the ends of nerve cell synapses, where one nerve cell connects to another and communicate with each other.  This tight attachment prevents the nerve cells from restoring their insulin receptors by keeping them from being transported from the nerve cell body where they are made.  

That blockade results in insulin resistance, which messes up glucose metabolism and keeps the memory cells from communicating with each other.  That means no new memories.  That’s Alzheimer’s characteristic problem.  Alzheimer’s may not be a problem with cell death as much as a problem of “synapse failure” and brain cell insulin resistance caused by the blockade by ADDLs, which then results in cell death. The hypothesis put forward by the Northwestern team is that Alzheimer’s may be simply another form of diabetes.  It looks like diabetes because in the brain cells, there is the inability to take up glucose, which results in intracellular starvation. While glucose might be out there in the blood, it’s not in the cell.  

That might explain why some folks have tons of plaques, but are able to think and remember just fine, but folks with persistent diabetes commonly start getting cognitive decline. Wait a minute!  Diabetes leads to cognitive decline!  Whoa Nellie.  Well, actually, we’ve known that for several years now.  Many studies have linked our growing obesity to our increasing rate of Alzheimer’s.  It may be that both diabetes and Alzheimer’s are disorders of insulin resistance.  Alzheimer’s just targets the brain.  Regular old obesity related diabetes gets every part of your body.  That’s the emerging hypothesis.  It’s not the plaques that are causing problems, it’s the small proteins called ADDLs that block normal energy metabolism through insulin resistance.  And we can cause similar damage to our brains by becoming diabetic.  That means just by getting overweight, we contribute to injury to our brains. 

 WWW:  What will work for me?  I now know how the Grinch stole Christmas.  He took away my sugar.  He told me that if I ate chocolate, fruit cake, candy canes, plum pudding, eggnog, and all my leftover Halloween candy, that I would get “cognitive decline”.  I am slightly insulin resistant.  It’s in my genes.  Ok, so one little itty-bitty resolution.  Just don’t buy any Trader Joe’s Truffles this year.  Last year, I bought 10 boxes, of which I only gave 8 away.  Somehow, two ended up in my own stocking.  This year, nothing but apples and coal.  If I can resist gaining one pound over the holidays, next year I will have a month less of struggle to get back to normal.  The good news, I may be able to remember the struggle!    Maybe a hike or two in all the snow isn’t such a bad idea.  Probably barefoot is better.  Then I can boast to my grandchildren....

This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield WI, (262-784-5300)