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Study Ties High Blood Sugar to Dementia

Update Date: Aug 10, 2013 10:50 AM EDT
Diabetes, Blood Sugar Levels
An average of three sessions with a mental health coach helped diabetic patients with their blood sugar control and depression symptoms. (Photo : REUTERS/Radu Sigheti )

People who suffer from certain diseases tend to be at a greater risk for other health complications, which is why keeping the body healthy is very important. For years, doctors and researchers noted that the chronic illness, diabetes appears to be tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Even though physicians have worried about this association, they could not explain why. Now, there is new evidence suggesting that the association has to do more with blood sugar levels than just diabetes. According to a new study published this past Thursday, researchers reported that people with high blood glucose levels, even if they do not have diabetes, are at a greater risk of dementia.  

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For this study, the researchers monitored the blood sugar levels of 2,067 people from a nonprofit HMO called Group Health. The participants were followed for an average of around seven years. The average age of the participants was 76. Only a small percentage of the people had diabetes at the beginning of the study. None of them were diagnosed with dementia. The researchers routinely checked the participants' blood glucose levels. As a part of Group Health, the participants had cognitive screening test every other year.

When the researchers tested for blood sugar levels, they collected both fasting and non-fasting glucose numbers using the HbA1c glycated hemoglobin assay. The researchers also factored in other potential variables that would lead to dementia, such as cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure and smoking. The researchers calculated that nearly one-fourth of the sample set developed some kind of dementia.

"We found a steadily increasing risk associated with ever-higher blood glucose levels, even in people who didn't have diabetes," Dr. Paul Crane, as associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington and study's author, said. "There's no threshold, no place where the risk doesn't go up any further or down any further."

The researchers found that this trend was true for people who did not have diabetes. The researchers calculated that for people with an average blood sugar level at 115 milligrams per deciliter, they had an 18 percent higher risk of dementia when compared to people with an average blood sugar level at 110 mg/dL. For people with average glucose levels at 190 mg/dL, the risk factor was 40 percent higher than people with levels at 160 mg/dL.

This study suggests that diabetes is a great contributor to dementia risk and thus, it is important to watch one's sugar levels. However, the researchers stated that people do not have to change their lifestyles completely out of fear of developing dementia. The researches stated that even though they found this relation, they did not find that lowering blood glucose levels would also lower one's risk.

"People shouldn't run for the hills or try crazy diets. This doesn't show that changes in behavior that lower your individual blood sugar would decrease your individual risk of dementia," Crane added.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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