High Prevalence of Undiagnosed Pre-diabetes Discovered in Early Alzheimer’s disease

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Last year, as part of a large nationwide study, Scott Turner, MD, PhD., neurologist at Georgetown University, began to enroll participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and found that a major part of the study participants had undiagnosed glucose intolerance. As Dr. Turner said in a recent news release, he was surprised by the amount of participants who had pre-diabetes.

The study, which assessed resveratrol, a compound present in red wine and red grapes, examined if this compound was associated with changes in the levels of glucose in participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

According to Dr. Turner, resveratrol is thought to act on brain proteins mimicking the effects of a diet low in calories.

“We know from animal studies that caloric restriction prevents diseases of aging such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” explained Turner who is the director of the Georgetown University Medical Center’s Memory Disorders Program. “On the flip side of the coin, having diabetes increases one’s risk of developing AD. So perhaps by improving glucose tolerance, we will prevent or delay both diabetes and Alzheimer’s.”

At study enrolment, all participants had a fasting glucose tolerance test, and then they had the same test two hours after eating.

During digestion, the blood sugar level increases, but the pancreas produces insulin to lower it. After two hours, high levels of sugar, demonstrates intolerance or diabetes if the level is very high.

“The number of people with glucose intolerance (pre-diabetes) was much higher than expected,” said Turner in the news release. “I was surprised by how many people didn’t know they were pre-diabetic, and these are individuals who already get the best medical care.”

The results revealed that 5 of the 128 study participants had reduced fasting glucose levels while three others had results consistent with type 2 diabetes mellitus. From the 125 study participants who completed the two-hour test, a total of 38 had intolerance to glucose who 16 had diabetes. Overall the prevalence or diabetes or glucose intolerance at two hours was of 43%.

Turner asked, “How does glucose intolerance or diabetes lead to AD? Does the inflammation associated with AD trigger glucose intolerance? Or do both events create a vicious cycle of Alzheimer’s and glucose intolerance?”

Although the research was not designed to address these issues, it might provide relevant clues. Neurologists typically do not order glucose tolerance test, however as Turner said “this result suggests that perhaps we should test all our patients with early Alzheimer’s. It’s a simple, inexpensive study that reveals critical health information.”

The findings from this study will be discussed in Boston on the 14th of July during the Alzheimer’s Association International Congress.