Diabetes induces accelerated brain aging

China, the country with the most diabetics; Mexico, in sixth place. University students conducted a study on the decline of the brain's capacity. They used computerized resources to objectively assess working and episodic memory.

Diabetes induces accelerated brain aging
According to the study, diabetes induces accelerated aging of the brain. Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

It is not enough to take medication to control diabetes, but to maintain a strict glucose level through a rigorous treatment, since not doing so significantly reduces the performance of memory, both episodic and working memory, essential to perform our daily tasks and lead an autonomous and self-sufficient life, said Selene Cansino, an expert from the Neurocognition Laboratory of the Faculty of Psychology (FP) of the UNAM.

This is part of the results of the research published in the article Impact of diabetes on the accuracy and speed of accessing information from episodic and working memory, in the journal Cogent Psychology. The academic clarified that this work is not a study on the disease, but a broader -and long-term- project on the decline of memory throughout adult life.

"One thousand 656 people participated in the root study, 148 of them diabetics. Considering that we had this group, we decided to delve deeper into the impact of this condition on memory and, so as not to contaminate the results with other pathologies, we discarded those who had other comorbidities such as hypercholesterolemia or hypertension, to be left with 100 individuals with diabetes alone and nothing else".

To understand the nuances of these variants, the academic explained that episodic memory allows us to remember personal experiences, and working memory is that which is used during wakefulness; it allows us to follow a conversation, make decisions or solve problems. "We studied both types because they are the ones that decline the most overtime and because there are indications that diabetes induces accelerated brain aging".

This chronic degenerative disease causes a decrease in brain volume due to the loss of nerve cells, a phenomenon that can be observed in the hippocampus - crucial for episodic memory - as well as in the inefficient performance of synaptic connections in that region, which hurts memory functioning.

In the study developed in the Neurocognition Laboratory of the FP, the functioning of episodic and working memory was contrasted between diabetics and healthy subjects and, according to Professor Cansino, the results were evident: "Those affected by diabetes had inferior performance, which shows that the impact of the condition on memory functions is very broad."

From forgetting to not remembering

It is estimated that there are 462 million people with diabetes on the planet, that is, 6.28 percent of the world's population, a figure that gives us an idea of the scope of the problem. This metabolic disease generates different affectations in the organism, including the brain, in which there are insulin receptors that intervene in the regulation of cognitive processes, in addition to the fact that insulin participates in the work of neurotransmitters, substances used by neurons during synapsis.

"In our study, we found that glucose levels in sick participants were 150 mg per deciliter, compared to 105 mg per deciliter in healthy people. These figures suggest that this poor memory performance can be attributed to poor glycemic control," said the university expert.

The key is to maintain strict control of plasma glucose levels because although the subjects in the study were under pharmacological treatment, on average they did not register adequate levels, which shows that it is not enough to take medication to control the disease; it is necessary to be more rigorous with the treatment and to observe oneself more closely.

"This concerns us all: China is where there are more diabetics, followed by India, the United States, Pakistan, Brazil and in sixth place is Mexico, but that is in absolute numbers because the prevalence among countries is the same. As you can see, this is not something that affects just a few or a handful of nations, we are talking about a universal phenomenon".