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A Closer Look

The link between diabetes and Alzheimer's

Scientists are working on identifying Alzheimer's risk factors. A leading candidates is Type 2 diabetes. One recent study suggests that some physiological abnormality from diabetes also promotes early pathological changes in Alzheimer's, well before dementia symptoms are seen.

September 20, 2010|By Jill U Adams, Special to the Los Angeles Times

A clinical trial tested the oral diabetes drug Avandia, which improves insulin sensitivity, against a placebo in 693 people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. The drug had no effect on cognition, according to results published online last month in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. (The Food and Drug Administration is currently evaluating whether Avandia should be pulled from the market because it raises the risk for heart attacks and strokes.)

A 2008 study, published in Neurology, tested the effect of insulin itself on the cognitive function of 25 patients with mild dementia. The hormone was administered nasally to aid its entry into the brain, and its use was associated with measurable improvements in attention and memory after three weeks of treatment.

However, Ringman says it's not clear that insulin was affecting the disease process at all.

Research on specific risk factors may help determine future strategies for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's. But there's solid advice for preventing or minimizing the risk now.

"Diabetes is bad for you," Ringman says. "So whether it's contributing to Alzheimer's or not, you should try to address your diabetes — exercise, eat right, the stuff your mama told you to do."

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