Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. Historically, diabetes referred to those cases where people did not produce insulin and depended on it being administered (“insulin depending diabetes”). This is commonly referred to as Type 1 diabetes. Before synthetic insulin was developed, many people with insulin dependent diabetes would suffer and die.
In 1959, a scientific discovery revealed that some people with diabetes still make some of their own insulin, a condition labeled “non-insulin-dependent” or type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as excess weight and inactivity, seem to be contributing factors.
Even though individuals with type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, they can still experience some of the health issues as those who have type 1 diabetes, especially if they do not manage their type 2 diabetes properly. There are many negative side effects to unmanaged type 2 diabetes including increased risk of stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, high blood pressure, neuropathy, and many others.
The Centers for Disease Control states that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes and another 86 million adults (more than one in three U.S. adults) have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years. (2)
One of the most recent and concerning research developments related to the diabetes epidemic is what is now being referred to as “Type 3” diabetes. This term has been introduced as a result of findings that have revealed the occurrence and effect of insulin resistance in the brain. People that have insulin resistance, in particular those with type 2 diabetes, have an increased risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, estimated to be between 50% and 65% higher than those who do not have type 2 diabetes. (3)
The Alzheimer’s Association describes the disease as:
A type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Early onset Alzheimer’s was once a rare disease. Alzheimer’s rates for those of all ages have climbed to now being the 5th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2006, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease was 26.6 million worldwide. It is estimated that by 2050, the prevalence is expected to quadruple, so that 1 in 85 persons will be living with the disease. (1)
Although the prevalence of dementia and its associated disability increases exponentially with age, the focus of research has recently shifted towards younger persons and the early stages of cognitive decline and mild cognitive impairment. For anyone who has had a loved one or family member live with Alzheimer’s, they know the toll it can take on the quality of life for those who have it and live with it.
Not all Alzheimer’s can be prevented. While risk factors like age, family history, and genetics are non-modifiable, lifestyle choices can help support good brain health and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. Some basic lifestyle choices approaches that can lower risk include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage blood pressure
- Manage cholesterol
- Meet physical activity guidelines
- Quit smoking
- Eat healthy
This body of research surrounding Type 3 diabetes is in its early stages and there is still discussion among the medical community and researchers as to the implications of findings and new directions. It does, however, reinforce the absolute necessity for good nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and proper management of type 2 diabetes.
- Brookmeyer R, Johnson E, Ziegler-Graham K, Arrighi HM. Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2007;3:186–191.
- Diabetes Latest. (2014, June 17). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfactsheet/
- Janson, J., Laedtke, T., Parisi, J. E., O’brien, P., Petersen, R. C., & Butler, P. C. (2004). Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Alzheimer Disease. Diabetes,53(2), 474-481. doi:10.2337/diabetes.53.2.474