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What is Type 3 Diabetes? The Link With Alzheimer’s

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As we age, it’s unfair to expect our brains to work as quickly or efficiently as when we were children. It’s normal for our brain function to slow slightly and for us to misplace items or forget information. This lag in brain processing shouldn’t interfere with daily activities or living life to the fullest.

When memory fails and a brain cannot keep up with daily life, it may be showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Recent research suggests that the disease needs a new name to reflect its underlying cause. Type 3 diabetes is gaining currency as a more accurate diagnosis due to the similarities of Alzheimer’s to other forms of diabetes.

Read on to learn more about type 3 diabetes, its causes, and how to treat it.

Type 1 And Type 2 Vs Type 3 Diabetes

Most medical organizations recognize two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. High blood sugar levels that the body cannot regulate on its own are characteristic of both types. The cause behind each, however, is dramatically different.

Type 1 diabetes (T1DM) starts in the pancreas. Your endocrine system relies on the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin. When it doesn’t, your glucose, or blood sugar, levels become too high. Most people with T1DM rely on outside sources of insulin to keep their blood sugar regulated for their entire life after diagnosis. Monitoring blood sugar levels requires constant attention to prevent swinging too far toward hypoglycemia, or low glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is a metabolic disorder that develops and worsens over time. With T2DM, your body might produce insulin but cannot use what it makes as a result of insulin resistance. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, or smoking. Many people reverse their T2DM diagnosis through a low-carb, low-calorie diet and exercise.

In 2008, a research team at Brown University recognized a third type of diabetes in Alzheimer’s disease. These findings formally linked insulin resistance within the brain to dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s the same condition that causes T2DM, only localized in the brain rather than throughout the body.

Much of the medical community has yet to recognize this additional type of diabetes. And while the phrase “type 3 diabetes” is gaining traction, it’s not yet widespread.

The Link Between Diabetes And Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes loss of memory and the ability to perform essential mental functions. Diabetes, on the other hand, is an inability to regulate blood sugar. On the surface, they seem like completely different diseases.

As described above, researchers now think that insulin resistance in the brain causes Alzheimer’s. In type 2 and type 3 diabetes, the body becomes more immune to, and creates an unwelcome environment for, insulin. This makes it harder for glucose to enter the cells.

In type 2 diabetes patients, cells throughout the body push away glucose, increasing blood sugar and causing fatigue or weakness. In type 3 patients, brain cells called neurons don’t receive the glucose they need to function. The result is a reduced ability to remember or reason.

Additionally, doctors see similar protein deposits in the pancreases of patients with T2DM and the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists need more research to fully understand these similarities.

Despite a lack of information explaining the connection between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, there are few doubts over the existence of such a connection. Doctors know that up to 65% of individuals with type 2 diabetes eventually become diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Preliminary studies show that healthy diets and exercise programs reduce the risks for both types.

Causes And Risk Factors

Until doctors better understand type 3 diabetes, the exact cause of the disease will remain unknown. Yet because scientists have uncovered a correlation between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, we can point to some key indicators.

Many people associate growing older with type 3 diabetes. They incorrectly think that aging adults always experience dementia or other memory struggles. Even though old age is the most telling risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, not everyone will suffer from the disease. Diagnoses increase exponentially every decade for individuals over the age of 65.

Family history is another reliable indicator of developing Alzheimer’s. People with a parent or sibling diagnosed with the disease are more likely to develop it themselves. Scientists think that genetic factors explain this, but have not identified precisely which genes play a role. There is also a correlation between other genetic conditions like Down syndrome that supports these perspectives.

Besides family history and increasing age, many of the other risk factors for type 3 diabetes match those of T2DM. According to research studies, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

Some researchers find the connection between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s to be an oversimplification. For example, traumatic brain injuries or other severe head trauma has a known association with future Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the absence of any similarities to T2DM. These conditions suggest that scientists have yet to find the missing link.

Those same scientists suggest that inflammation or cellular damage might explain the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s better than insulin resistance in the brain. Even if they’re correct, many of the risk factors still overlap.

Symptoms

The most well-known side effect of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, or dementia. General memory loss includes frequently misplacing items or becoming unable to stay organized enough to complete daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning, or driving a car. With dementia, memory loss becomes so severe that people cannot live their daily lives without assistance.

People with advanced Alzheimer’s cannot safely drive cars or navigate public transportation. They often struggle with social interactions and cannot remember people’s names or how they know them. It becomes harder to leave the house or participate in society.

As type 3 diabetes progresses, these issues become more severe. Many patients experience drastic changes in their personality or behavior. A previously calm and loving person may become easily angered and violent.

Additionally, type 3 diabetes patients lose the ability to explain how they feel. Caregivers might miss infections or other deadly diseases because an Alzheimer’s patient fails to mention their pain or piece together that something is wrong on their own.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, patients might recognize their confusion or memory struggles and seek help. When the disease progresses, family members, friends, or doctors are the ones who notice symptoms. Those who suffer from type 3 diabetes don’t often recognize that they have it.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease requires a holistic approach. There’s no specific test that indicates the presence of type 3 diabetes. Doctors must use a combination of neurological examinations, the patient’s medical history, and neurophysiological testing.

Brain scans, like an MRI or CT, can show whether your brain is working correctly or whether there are problem areas. Doctors might also test cerebrospinal fluid to look for indicators of Alzheimer’s.

Much of the diagnosis comes from the patient’s family history and current experiences. Changes in personality, sleeping habits, delusions, wandering, or sudden aggression often tell doctors more than brain imaging or other tests. Immediately let your doctor know if you notice any of these trends or the symptoms described above in a family member or friend.

Doctors might also perform tests that challenge brain function. They want to see whether people can successfully complete tasks that require judgment or critical thinking skills. Combining these brain challenges with imaging, family history, and personal health history will indicate whether something is wrong with the brain.

People with type 2 diabetes, especially those who struggle to keep it under control without medication, should receive regular assessments for Alzheimer’s as they age. The earlier you receive a diagnosis, the easier it will be to slow the progression.

Treatment

There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Health professionals work hard to treat the complications of the disease and slow its progression. Many individuals live for years after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis but do not recover.

Pharmaceutical companies have many medications designed to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These drugs can help patients retain memories and the ability to do things for themselves, like shower and use the bathroom. Many of these pills have common side effects, so caregivers must watch for signs of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, patients often become agitated, anxious, aggressive, restless, depressed, or unable to sleep. Doctors often prescribe these type 3 diabetes patients with other medications, both by prescription and over the counter, to treat these symptoms.

Most people with advanced Alzheimer’s require specialized care around the clock. They often are happier and safer in assisted living or nursing homes designed to keep patients safe. These facilities allow their family members to rest and get through their daily lives without constant worry.

Prevention

Because there’s still so much we don’t know about the causes of type 3 diabetes, it’s impossible to know how to prevent it. There’s no magic calculator of workouts, meal plans, or supplements. After years of study, doctors have identified some activities and supplements that reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

It’s important to remember that every person is different. What works for a friend or family member may not be the best path for you. It’s essential to work with your doctor to create a type 3 diabetes prevention plan that matches your risk factors and lifestyle.

Even though the following activities and diets aren’t guaranteed to keep your brain functioning as you age, they won’t hurt. Regular exercise, brain training, and quality sleep are critical elements of any healthy lifestyle. The more you focus on your overall picture of health, the less likely you are to have problems in the future.

Exercise

A consistent exercise program can not only decrease your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, but can also slow its progression in people who already show type 3 diabetes symptoms. When you move your body, it stimulates your brain function and helps it continue to make connections.

Additionally, exercise positively affects insulin sensitivity. After a workout, your cells are more willing to let insulin create a pathway for glucose to enter. To see these benefits, doctors recommend never going more than three days between exercise sessions.

You don’t have to become a gym rat doing hardcore workouts to see the benefits of exercise in your brain. A mere 150 minutes per week of moderate workouts, such as walking or bodyweight exercises, will cut down your Alzheimer’s risk. Click here for a comprehensive list of exercise equipment especially for seniors.

Diet

There’s no consensus among doctors regarding which diet is best for preventing type 3 diabetes. They do, however, all agree that eating less sugar is a good start. Research also supports consuming fewer processed meats and fried foods to protect your brain. The evidence supporting avoidance of dairy, fats, and nitrates remains mixed.

The Mediterranean diet remains one of the most highly regarded for people with any type of diabetes. On this diet, you primarily eat healthy food choices such as vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil. You sometimes consume poultry and dairy products, eating red meat only on occasion.

Medication

There’s no magic pill that prevents Alzheimer’s. Some supplements and medications seem to help slow the progression from type 2 diabetes. Without large-scale scientific studies, these remain opinions and not foolproof treatments.

Diabetes medication, specifically Metformin, seems to reduce the likelihood of progressing from type 2 diabetes to Alzheimer’s. GLP-1 receptor agonists have also shown promise in early studies. More research needs to be conducted before we fully understand how these medications work and whether they truly prevent type 3 diabetes.

Many doctors also recognize Omega-3 oils as beneficial for maintaining brain health and preventing Alzheimer’s. Some go further to suggest vitamins B6, B12, and D along with folate, coenzyme Q10, Ginkgo biloba, and alpha-lipoic acid. Like the medications described above, these supplements require further research before they become widely accepted treatments.

Sleep

We repeatedly hear that eight hours of sleep each night is the healthiest amount. Most adults find themselves lucky to snag 5 or 6. Inadequate sleep is one of the major risk factors for developing type 3 diabetes. Find out how to maximise the hours you sleep.

When you sleep for eight hours, your brain has time to heal itself. By missing out on the deep sleep phase of our sleep cycles, our brains miss out on crucial opportunities for restoration and repair.

Mental Activity

Brain function is a skill that you can develop and maintain throughout your life. Learning and brain training don’t stop after adolescence. The sharper your brain, the harder it is for a cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s to take it down. Keep your mind sharp!

You can train your brain by solving puzzles, doing the daily crossword, or learning new skills. Reading books or playing quiz games are other common brain training activities.

Spending time with other people also helps keep your brain working. You must learn names, listen and understand what people are saying, and collaborate on projects. The community support these activities provide is a valuable bonus. Supplements like this one can be a big help too.

Summing Up

Type 3 diabetes remains a disease with more questions than answers. Researchers and doctors are on a path toward more specific treatment plans. Until then, it’s up to each of us to live the healthiest lifestyle we can to keep our brains sharp.

If you still have questions or need more Alzheimer’s prevention resources, leave us a comment below. We’re happy to share all we’ve learned in our quest to maintain optimal health while aging gracefully.

Rosemary Richards
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