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[IP] High blood sugar linked to lost memory
High blood sugar linked to lost memory
Diet and exercise may protect the brain from forgetfulness
Tuesday, February 4, 2003 Posted: 12:28 PM EST (1728 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists have found yet another reason to slim down:
The high blood sugar so common among the overweight may contribute to the
fogged memory of old age.
A small study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences, showed that middle-aged and elderly people with high blood
sugar actually had a smaller hippocampus, the brain region so crucial for
The good news: If the findings are confirmed, simple diet and exercise could
help many people protect their brains. Maybe the threat of memory loss will
provide the final push for aging baby boomers to take those steps, said lead
researcher Dr. Antonio Convit of New York University.
"That's a great motivator to stay off the calories and stay off the couch,"
For every Alzheimer's patient, there are eight older people who suffer
enough memory loss to significantly harm their quality of life even though
they have no dementia-causing disease, said Convit, an NYU psychiatry
professor who set out to uncover the causes.
Blood sugar was a natural suspect because scientists have long known that
diabetics are at higher-than-normal risk for memory problems. Diabetes harms
blood vessels that supply the brain, heart and other organs.
The new study found that people's memory may be harmed long before they ever
develop full-fledged diabetes -- and that it's a problem of fuel, not
Convit studied 30 non-diabetic middle-aged and elderly people. He measured
how they performed on several memory tests; how quickly they metabolized
blood sugar after a meal; and, using MRI scans, the size of the hippocampus.
The slower those outwardly healthy people metabolized blood sugar, the worse
their memory was -- and the smaller their hippocampus was, Convit found.
Unlike most other tissues that have multiple fuel sources, the brain depends
on blood sugar for almost all its energy, Convit explained. The longer that
glucose stays in the bloodstream instead of being metabolized into body
tissues, the less fuel the brain has to store memories.
Convit's research found no specific threshold at which memory automatically
worsened. Overall, though, the slower the glucose metabolism, the worse
Once that metabolism reaches certain levels, it becomes a condition called
"impaired glucose tolerance" or pre-diabetes, thought to afflict 16 million
Americans. It strikes mostly in middle age, although people of any age who
are overweight and sedentary are at risk. Without treatment, pre-diabetes
usually turns into full-fledged diabetes, which in turn brings deadly heart
attacks, kidney failure and numerous other ailments.
Why did only the memory-crucial hippocampus seem harmed? Previous animal and
human research shows it's the region most likely damaged by any brain
disorder, Convit said. Conversely, it's also a very adjustable region, with
the potential for some recovery if people bring their blood sugar under
control, he said.
Convit's study sheds important light on yet another risk of bad blood sugar,
said Dr. Fran Kaufman, president of the American Diabetes Association.
She cautioned that it was a small study that requires confirmation before
doctors test glucose solely for memory complaints.
But if confirmed, the same advice for lowering people's overall diabetes
risk -- drop a few pounds and do exercise as simple as walking 30 minutes a
day -- apparently would help protect people's brains, too, Kaufman said.
Meanwhile, the diabetes association already recommends pre-diabetes testing
for everyone 45 or older, and for younger people who are significantly
overweight and have one other risk factor: a diabetic relative; bad
cholesterol; high blood pressure; diabetes during pregnancy; birth to a baby
bigger than 9 pounds; or belonging to a racial minority.
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