As we know, Alzheimer’s and dementia are systemically-problematic conditions in that there is still much debate today on how to go about studying the diseases - nevermind actually finding a cure. Despite our uncertainty, there is, however, a lot of highly promising research finding its footing on this unknown path of exploration. Fantastic progress has been made by healthcare professionals across the board in dealing with memory loss and its dehumanizing effects; patients now have access to the widest range of mental exercises and brain-training material ever produced. This is all thanks to the health sector’s initiatives being rooted in the needs of our digital age. And recent developments at Novo Nordisk suggest that our focus on the brain may only be a part of potential research. As the diabetes research institute looks to test their products in the Alzheimer’s market, we consider the possibility that the answer to our problems may be in our blood -specifically, our blood sugar.
Where’s the link?
Just as lifestyle choices are pretty accurate predictors of health in later life, those living with diabetes, or those with the same genetics as diabetes’ patients, may be at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, recent research suggests. It’s been proposed for some time now that Alzheimer’s disease is related to blood glucose levels and, as a result, has been dubbed type 3 diabetes by Diabetes.co.uk. Type 1, sometimes referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease; and while it can have very dangerous results on an immune system, it is not considered a threat to an individual’s mental health. It is patients with type 2, experts speculate, that might be at risk.
Researchers from Brown’s University conducted a study that found insulin resistance within the brain was a defining characteristic of both type 2 and Alzheimer's patients. In fact, the same research suggests that having type 2 almost doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, although the reasons why are not entirely clear. One possible reason is that damaged blood vessels from glucose build-up, which is common in type 2 patients, reduces blood flow to the brain.
So, if Alzheimer’s is strongly linked to diabetes, can we cure it - or at least treat it - with diabetes’ medications? As of yet, we aren’t completely sure. Back in 2017, however, Mayo Clinic participated in a multi-institution clinical trial evaluating an insulin nasal spray on Alzheimer’s patients. While the study was unable to give definite results on the effects of the medication, it was able to produce interesting conclusions among patients with specific genetic makeups. “This study has furthered our understanding of the gene that is the strongest genetic risk factor known for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Guojun Bu, a neuroscientist working on the trials. “About 20% of the human population carries this riskier form of [the gene] APOE, called E4.” Mayo Clinic’s results reckon that about 50% of Alzheimer’s cases are associated with APOE4.
It’s studies like Mayo Clinic’s that remind us that Alzheimer’s won’t have a simple solution. While the symptoms of type 2 correlate with the disease, work in genetics and wider fields are also making positive links. From what we can determine, diabetes is linked to Alzheimer's, and since type 2 is reversible it’s sensible to suggest that there is hope in finding an Alzheimer’s treatment in this area of research. What we can be absolutely optimistic about is that a whole world of practical research, spanning the globe, is being carried out right now - and the results being produced are promising.