Researchers have long known that inflammation plays a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. This inflammation comes from substances that are produced by the body’s immune and fat cells. The result: impaired blood flow and blood vessel function— which impacts the health of the heart, kidneys and other organs and body systems.
A study published in a July 2015 journal Neurology found that this reduced blood flow and blood vessel capability also affects the brain by speeding up cognitive decline and memory loss in older adults with type 2 diabetes.
The researchers studied 65 men and women between the ages of 57 and 75. Thirty-five of the study participants had been treated for type 2 diabetes for more than five years at the beginning of the study. The initial assessment of all participants included testing of memory and cognitive function skills, as well as MRI scans and blood tests to determine baseline blood flow, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, and brain volume. None of the participants had any type of cognitive impairment at the time of the initial assessment.
At a two-year follow-up, those with type 2 diabetes showed a significant decline in thinking and memory scores. None of the non-diabetic participants showed any decline. Blood vessel health and blood flow regulation were also seriously impaired in those with diabetes.
“We ultimately concluded that diabetes-related inflammation of the small blood vessels in the brain may accelerate decline in those with type 2 diabetes,” says study author Vera Novak, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and director of Syncope and Falls in the Elderly (SAFE) laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “This, in turn, affects not only their overall health but also their day-to-day activities.”
For now, it is unclear whether inflammation initially causes insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes or if existing inflammation is intensified by high blood sugar, or both. Since this study ended with a two-year follow-up, further and longer-term studies are necessary before researchers fully understand the impact of type 2 diabetes and inflammation on mental health and other complications.
If you have type 2 diabetes, or have been diagnosed with a related condition, such as prediabetes or insulin resistance, the best thing you can do is follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your blood glucose (sugar) levels within a recommended range. Consistent blood glucose control is key to preventing complications and maintaining a good quality of life.