Study Finds That Diabetes Medication Can Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Type 2 diabetes is a condition that normally occurs in late adulthood, and patients with the disease are at increased risk for dementia when compared to non-diabetics. In a recent study, Michael Heneka and demographers Anne Fink and Gabriele Doblhammer examined how anti-diabetic medication influences this risk.

The study included analysis of diseases and medication information of more than 145,000 people aged 60 and over, retrieved from the German public health insurance company AOK between 2004 to 2010.

Results showed that, as previously found in other investigations, patients with diabetes are at increased risk for dementia. The researchers also found that pioglitazone can decrease this risk. This drug, taken in tablets, is a short and long-term treatment of the disease, when the body can still produce insulin.

“Treatment with pioglitazone showed a remarkable side benefit. It was able to significantly decrease the risk of dementia,” said Doblhammer in a recent news release. “The longer the treatment, the lower the risk.” Risk reduction was most noticeable when the drug was administered for at least two years. Diabetics given this treatment developed dementia less often than non-diabetics. Doblhammer: “The risk of developing dementia was around 47 percent lower than in non-diabetics, i.e. only about half as large.”

In the study, the researchers also found that Metformin, another anti diabetic drug, was found to reduce the risk, however to a lesser extent than pioglitazone.

Pioglitazone is known to improve the effect of the body’s own insulin, and is able to protect nerve cells. The current results are therefore no surprise to neuroscientist Michael Heneka. “Pioglitazone is an anti-inflammatory drug that also inhibits the deposition of harmful proteins in the brain,” he said in the news release.

However, Heneka emphasized in the news release that the precise mechanisms remain poorly understood: “Our study suggests that pioglitazone has a preventive effect. This happens when the drug is taken before symptoms of dementia manifest. Thus, it protects in particular against Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. The causes for this, whether pioglitazone only has this protective effect in diabetics or if it would also work in non-diabetics — all these questions have yet to be answered. The next logical step would therefore be clinical studies. These studies would specifically investigate the effect of pioglitazone and other antidiabetics on dementia.”