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Insulin resistance linked to Alzheimer's brain plaques

by CTV.ca News Staff

Updated: Thu. Aug. 26 2010

A new study has more bad news for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes: researchers have found evidence they may be at increased risk for developing the brain plaques linked to Alzheimer's disease.

In the new study, which appears in the journal Neurology, 135 Japanese men and women underwent diabetes screening tests in 1988. They were then followed for up to 15 years for signs of Alzheimer's disease.

After they died, researchers conducted autopsies on their brains to look for plaques, and brain "tangles," another brain abnormality seen with Alzheimer's disease. While 16 per cent had symptoms of Alzheimer's disease while alive, a total of 65 per cent had brain plaques. Plaques were found in 72 per cent of people with insulin resistance and 62 per cent of those with no indication of insulin resistance, the researchers wrote.

People who had abnormal results on their blood sugar tests were more likely to have plaques in their brain, the study shows. This relationship was more pronounced among people who also had a form of the ApoE gene that's been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

There was no link between insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and risk for developing brain tangles, the study found. The researchers say it's not clear if insulin resistance is a cause of brain plaques. But if it is, that leaves the door open to perhaps preventing Alzheimer's disease by controlling or preventing diabetes. The study's findings are significant, the authors say, given the rising prevalence of both type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

"With the rising obesity rates and the fact that obesity is related to the rise in type 2 diabetes, these results are very concerning," study author Dr. Kensuke Sasaki, with Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, said in a news release.

As for why diabetes and Alzheimer's might be linked, the researchers suggest that having high levels of glucose and insulin in the blood may damage neurons.

It may also hinder the brain's ability to clear out amyloids, a protein normally produced by the body. These proteins can then form the beta-amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

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