Header Image: Link Between Alzheimer's and DiabetesDiabetes. It’s a disease marked by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar and complications that can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and feet. 

Even though it affects one in 10 people in the United States, many are not aware that numerous studies have suggested a link between Type 2 diabetes and a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, there are still steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

What are Diabetes and Alzheimer’s?

Ninety to 95 percent of diabetes patients are classified as Type 2 diabetes, which is often caused by a lack of exercise, being overweight and/or a genetic predisposition.

(Type 1 diabetes is when your body is unable to produce insulin from birth and gestational diabetes affects only females during pregnancy)

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is progressive, gradually destroying a person’s memory and often affecting the ability to learn, think, make judgments, carry out daily living tasks and activities, and even causing personality and behavior changes (such as anxiety, agitation and delusions).

Click here to learn more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Though the link is not yet fully understood, scientists do know that high blood sugar or insulin can impact the brain in several ways.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, inflammation caused by high blood sugar may damage brain cells, which supports the development of Alzheimer’s.

Diabetes also doubles a patient’s risk of heart disease and stroke, hurting the heart and damaging blood vessels, also contributing to the disease.

And last, too much insulin may cause the ratio of brain chemicals to become unbalanced, yet another potential influence.

The numbers increasingly support this research. According to a study published in World Journal of Diabetes, the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in those with diabetes was found to be 65 percent higher than among non-diabetic controls.

In this study, a correlation was again found between damage to the arteries that bring blood to the brain, as well as elevated blood sugar and brain deterioration.

Additionally, diabetes has been linked with an increase in systemic inflammation, and researchers have discovered links identifying inflammatory processes and dementia.

These and other numerous studies have indicated the same results over and over again—that excess sugar in the blood not only causes damage to the body in ways that we are already familiar with, such as deteriorating eyesight and liver damage, but damages the brain, as well.

How To Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

The best way to cut your risk is to implement lifestyle changes now that will help prevent Type 2 diabetes. And if you’re already diagnosed as pre-diabetic? It’s never been more important to control the condition early, before it blooms into a full diagnosis of diabetes.

Simple ways to reduce your risk include:

  • Manage your weight. Even though there are Type 2 diabetics who aren’t overweight, being overweight does put you at a greater risk of developing the disease. In fact, being overweight or obese is one of the biggest predictors of diabetes. Studies have shown that losing even 5 to 7 percent of your current body weight can have a major impact in reducing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Move your body. Exercise should include at least 30 minutes of activity robust enough to increases your heart rate, a minimum of five days a week. Not every older adult can manage this, however, so balance your health and mobility with as much activity as you can safely manage. Even small amounts can make a difference. To increase your movement even more, small modifications in your daily routine can help, such as taking stairs instead of the elevator and parking your car a bit further away from your destination.  
  • Eat healthy. Smaller portions will help you lose weight and choosing the right foods can decrease your risk. Choose whole grains with minimal processing, rather than white breads, white rice and mashed potatoes. Skip sugary drinks and choose water instead. Incorporate good fats, such as polyunsaturated fats from salmon, avocado and olive oil, and avoid trans fats. Swap red meat or processed meats for poultry or fish.
  • Quit Smoking. The CDC states that smokers are 30-40 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. So if you smoke, try to quit.

Are Type 2 Diabetes Sufferers Guaranteed to Develop Alzheimer’s?

Just because you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s, but your risk is significantly increased.

There is hope however, since Type 2 diabetes can be managed. It’s even one of few conditions that can be reversed with the right behavior and lifestyle changes.

So follow your doctor’s recommendations, consider partnering with a health coach to learn new habits and obtain nutrition counseling, and make every effort to manage your diabetes.  

Why take a chance?

Sun Health’s Center for Health & Wellbeing offers programs to help people live a healthy lifestyle, including diabetes prevention and management, weight loss, nutrition, fitness, fall prevention and balance, and massage and acupuncture. For more information on these programs, click here.


(Originally published Oct. 6, 2017; last updated Jan. 6, 2019.)

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