Caring Currents

Diabetes Drug Combo May Keep the Mind Healthy

Last updated:

August 14, 2008
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The curious connection between diabetes and Alzheimer's just got a little more mysterious.

As fellow blogger Paula Spencer noted in her recent Alzheimer's disease conference round-up, researchers have discovered that people with diabetes who take insulin in combination with an oral diabetes drug have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who only inject insulin.

It's not clear why popping a diabetes pill -- like metformin (brand name: Glucophage) or glyburide (Micronase, Diabeta, Glynase) -- along with injecting insulin dramatically drops a person's risk of this kind of dementia, but because several studies have found people with diabetes at much higher risk of getting Alzheimer's than the general population, this is a welcome finding.

In the investigation, people with diabetes treated with both insulin and an oral agent had 80 percent fewer sticky substances called amyloid plaques in the brain -- a hallmark of the brain disease -- than people who didn't. These brain-clogging plaques cause the creeping mind degeneration characteristic of people with Alzheimer's, such as memory loss and impaired mental function. Intriguingly, the medications didn't seem to reduce the bundles of fibrous tangles of brain cells, also a hallmark of the disease, in the people studied.

It's early still -- no one's suggesting folks should add these meds to their drug regimen at the first sign of Alzheimer's -- but these findings could mean good news down the track for people with diabetes who are looking for ways to lower their risk of developing the brain-wasting disease.

Other research has looked at whether a newer diabetes drug, rosiglitazone (Avandia), may slow brain decay in people with Alzheimer's. And preliminary results look promising here, too.

If scientists can uncover whether diabetes-related damage to blood vessels that supply brain cells also triggers Alzheimer's in some people, then there may be interventions that, if introduced early on in the disease process, could help slow unwanted brain changes.

It may be some years before any of these encouraging initial outcomes translate into new therapies that benefit people with diabetes at risk for Alzheimer's.

In the meantime, what can you do to help a parent with diabetes keep Alzheimer's at arm's length? For starters, read about the early warning signs of the disease. And learn more about how you can delay the development of the disorder.

Image by Flickr user ShutterCat7 used under the Creative Commons attribution license.