Does Blood Sugar Affect Dementia Risk?

September 2, 2013
Blood sugar levels may give an indication of dementia risk.

Blood sugar levels may be indicators of dementia risk.

Could a sweet tooth increase a person’s chance of developing dementia? According to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, blood sugar levels may be related to dementia risk, but it’s still too early to tell.

Not just diabetes

Scientists have long known that people with diabetes are more likely to develop dementia, although why that should be true is something that still puzzles them. This new study suggests that people without diabetes but with higher than normal blood sugar may also be at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The article, which goes by the refreshingly easy-to-understand title of “Glucose Levels and Risk of Dementia,” looks at the blood sugar levels of 2,067 patients over a seven-year period. Most of these patients were diabetes-free when the study began, and none of them had been diagnosed with dementia. Their average age at the start was 76 years.

Eventually, 524 people (about 25%) of the people developed dementia. People whose glucose levels averaged 115 (high, but not on a diabetes level) were 18% more likely to develop dementia than those whose average blood sugar level was 100.

What does it mean?

Does this mean that everyone with high blood sugar levels is at risk of developing dementia, or that people with low blood sugar levels can expect to live Alzheimer’s free? Absolutely not. What this study tells us is that there seems to be some sort of connection, but exactly what that connection is, or whether changing blood sugar levels will alter chances of developing dementia isn’t yet known.

What to do

Still, working to avoid high glucose levels and diabetes is a good thing in terms of general health. There are several steps you can take to help prevent type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Keeping at an appropriate, healthy weight. Even if you feel that you can’t get down to your “perfect” weight, losing 5 or 10 pounds can make a difference.
  • Eating better. Including lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet and limiting salt intake and empty calories will improve your general health.
  • Staying active. Exercising even a moderate amount on a regular basis can be beneficial.
  • Stopping smoking. It can be hard work, but it’s worth it.

As always, of course, check with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or starting an exercise program.

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Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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