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Controlling Blood Sugar may Ensure Sharper Memories with Age

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

According to new research, blood sugar control plays an important role in keeping our memory sharp as we age.

Researcher has recently focused on the reasons we lose our memory as we age. The quest for drugs and solutions for Alzheimer's disease prevention and treatment has given us clues, but no definite answers to what all of the influences that cause memory loss with age.

The newest study, published December 23, 2008, in the Annals of Neurology, looked at the MRI's of 250 community-based elders, around 79 years of age. MRI was used to compare brain abnormalities in elders with either Type 2 diabetes or brain infarct (such as with stroke) to tests the researchers subsequently performed on rhesus monkeys and mice. The researchers found exactly which area of the hippocampus in the brain was involved in memory decline associated with either diabetes or brain infarcts.

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The results showed that Type 2 diabetes and infarcts both cause dysfunction in the hippocampus. However, MRI was able to pinpoint the exact area of the brain dysfunction affected by blood sugar, showing that the mechanism of memory loss is very different from brain infarct. The studies were confirmed with the same findings in diabetic monkeys and mice, which showed that the exact area of brain dysfunction associated with blood sugar was the same. The changes were independent of body weight or blood sugar levels.

The authors concluded, "Taken together with previous findings, these results clarify how diseases of late life differentially target the hippocampal formation, identify elevations in blood glucose as a contributing cause of age-related memory decline, and suggest specific interventions that can preserve cognitive health".

There are several reasons that memory declines with age, including diseases of the blood vessels. The dentate gyrus was the specific area targeted by the scientists, previously associated with memory and aging.

Dr Scott A. Small,lead investigator of the study, and associate professor of neurology in the Sergievsky Center and in the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center says, "Showing for the first time that blood glucose selectively targets the dentate gyrus is not only our most conclusive finding, but it is the most important for 'normal' aging: that is hippocampal dysfunction that occurs in the absence of any disease states. There have been many proposed reasons for age-related hippocampal decline; this new study suggests that we may now know one of them."

As we age, our blood sugar levels have a tendency to become elevated. Exercise is important to control blood sugar levels. We now find another important reason to keep blood sugar levels normal, even for those without diabetes. Controlling blood sugar can ensure a sharper memory with age.