A review analysis by Professor Melissa Schilling, a strategy and innovation expert at the New York University’s Stern School of Business, suggests a strong link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, “Unraveling Alzheimer’s: Making Sense of the Relationship between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease,” was published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s is a complex neurodegenerative disease whose origin is often unknown, except for a small number of cases linked to genetics. Its suspected causes include the aggregation of tau proteins, membrane damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, a buildup of intracellular toxic proteins, and axonal transport.
The effects of pre-existent medical conditions, like diabetes, on neurodegeneration are also still unclear.
Professor Schilling reviewed hundreds of publications related to the pathway between insulin and Alzheimer’s. She found that hyperinsulinemia, a condition marked by excess levels of insulin due to untreated or early diabetes, pre-diabetes, and obesity, is associated with nearly half of all Alzheimer’s cases.
“What I’ve learned from my innovation research is that specialists can become trapped in the logic of their field, so new perspectives often come from outsiders,” Professor Schilling said in a press release. “If we can raise awareness and get more people tested for hyperinsulinemia, especially those who have been diagnosed with or who are at risk for dementia, it could significantly lessen the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, as well as other diabetes-related health problems.”
Professor Schilling believes her findings are of significance to both policy-makers and clinicians, and suggests the following improvements: 1) individuals be tested for pre-diabetes, as one-third of the U.S. population is suspected of having the condition and ignoring it; 2) dementia patients be tested for glucose intolerance to slow or possibly reverse the disease; 3) adults be regularly tested for glucose tolerance, preferably using the hemoglobin A1c test; and, 4) glycemic indexing be included on the labels of all food products.
According to the Alzheimer’s association, approximately 5.3 million people in the U.S. are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.