Not just a body issue: how diabetes impacts the mind

Most people tend to associate diabetes health problems with the body, and of course they’re right, but we often forget that the mind, or the brain, is a bodily organ as well and can be significantly impacted by diabetes.

According to Dementia Australia, type 2 diabetes can double your risk of developing dementia. The risk of developing dementia in the general population is around 10% while those with type 2 diabetes have a 20% risk of developing the condition.

Recent research from the University of Newcastle’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (NHMRC) suggests that the dementia link relates to fluctuating blood-sugar levels, and possibly constriction and damage to small blood vessels that send blood to the brain.

Some people report experiencing brain fog as a result of the ups and downs that are associated with quickly rising and falling blood-sugar levels, but the dementia link shows the issue is a lot more serious than simply a sugar crash.

And it’s not just the NHMRC drawing the links between diabetes and mental function.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), diabetes ‘alters cerebral metabolism, structure and function’, as well as mood and motivation.

These are significant impacts in a learning or workplace environment but the link to a more thoroughgoing and debilitating brain condition are concerning.

Associate Professor Graham Jones, a Clinical Biochemist and pathologist explains how diabetes impacts the brain.

‘Diabetes is a medical condition that when undetected or left untreated can lead to significant macro and microvascular complications.

‘Sometimes that can lead to amputations, particularly of feet, as the smaller blood vessels at the periphery of the body struggle for blood supply.

‘And of course there are micro-vessels in the brain, so diabetes – which can lead to the constriction of blood supply – is going to have an impact there as well.’

Research conducted by the Centre for International Economics in 2016 showed that the sooner diabetes or prediabetes is detected, the greater the health and economic outcomes.

According to the report, the average annual healthcare cost per person for someone with type 2 diabetes in Australia was $4,025 compared to $9,645 for someone who had developed micro and macrovascular complications.

‘What the new research shows, and what we know already, is that early detection of diabetes is at an absolute premium from an all-round health perspective,’ Professor Jones said.

‘There are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as being older (i.e over 35), having a larger waist (over 100cms), or doing less than 2.5 hours of physical activity per week.

‘For those who think they might have diabetes or be at the edge, there are simple blood tests, either a blood sugar test or the HbA1c test that will tell you where you’re at. If you’re concerned that you or a loved one might be at risk, you should speak with your doctor about it.’