Why Some Researchers Are Calling Alzheimer’s Disease A Type 3 Diabetes

In studies of peoples’ brains following death, researchers noted that brains of those with Alzheimer’s but no type 1 or 2 diabetes showed many of the same abnormalities as those with diabetes, including lower levels of insulin in the brain. The fact that Alzheimer’s may be associated with low levels of insulin in the brain is why increasing numbers of researchers have called Alzheimer's type 3 diabetes, or diabetes of the brain. This type 3 diabetes is the term proposed to describe the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia, is caused by a kind of insulin resistance and dysfunctions in insulin-like growth factors occurring exclusively in the brain.



Because brain cells also need blood sugar to survive and function, a novel theory for type 3 diabetes suggests that a similar lack of insulin resistance, leading to adverse cognitive effects, may be behind some cases of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In that case, researchers promoting a diagnosis of type 3 diabetes may suggest that you might be able to slow down the progress of Alzheimer's or vascular dementia through proper diet, exercise, and stress management. Diabetic patients treated with insulin are about twice as likely to develop dementia than diabetic patients who manage their condition with diet and lifestyle changes.


Another way that AD might be considered a form of diabetes is by showing that taking diabetes-fighting drugs or injecting insulin is helpful in preventing AD neurodegeneration or, at the very least, may help to ameliorate symptoms in patients. Type 3 diabetes may be treatable, preventable, or curable with antidiabetics.



The Alzheimers Society reports that the current research is focused on risk factors, from high blood pressure to a lack of exercise, and how better brain health may prevent or delay the disease. Although aging, genetics and family history cannot be changed, The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Careexternal icon suggest addressing risk factors may prevent or delay as many as 40% of cases of dementia. Population-based studies have suggested that factors associated with general well-being can also lower the risk for dementia and cognitive decline.


Studies have shown that the same healthy behaviors that can prevent certain types of cancer, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. According to a series of studies, staying physically active and exercising regularly appears to lower the risk of developing dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, exercising regularly may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%.


Regular physical exercise can be a helpful strategy for lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Maintaining cardiovascular health can be vital in lowering the risk for several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. In addition, taking good care of your health now may help to improve long-term outcomes, like reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.



Treating high blood pressure with medications and making healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking, can help lower the risk for dementia. There is good evidence that different factors related to living a healthier lifestyle can play a role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. While there is no effective treatment for or proven prevention for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, overall, leading a healthier lifestyle can help to address the risk factors that have been linked to these diseases. Although clinical trials have suggested exercise can help delay or slow the onset of age-related cognitive decline, there is not sufficient evidence to conclude it prevents or delays the development of AD.


Results of long-term observational studies in which researchers watch a person’s behavior without influencing or changing it--also suggest that informal cognitively stimulating activities, like reading or playing games, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer-related cognitive decline and dementia. While the research is still developing, the data are compelling and suggest people may reduce their risks by making key lifestyle changes, including engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy heart.

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