November is National Diabetes Awareness month, and it’s also National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. The two diseases share more than a marketing campaign. In fact, some researchers have referred to Alzheimer’s as “diabetes of the brain.”
For more than 100 years, diabetes has been known to affect the brain. In the early 20th century, doctors realized that people with diabetes often complained of poor memory and attention. A study done in 1922 confirmed that people with diabetes performed poorly on cognitive tasks related to memory and attention.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated cognitive impairments, although there are differences in the underlying cause. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at an early age when high blood sugars may affect the development of the brain. Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed at an older age and commonly is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, and high cholesterol, all of which can affect the health of the brain.
While type 1 diabetes cannot be avoided, it is relatively rare. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is avoidable for most people.
We have an epidemic of type 2 diabetes in many developed countries around the world, and the public health implications for treating it and Alzheimer’s are enormous.
You can do a lot to prevent diabetes and to control your diabetes if you have already been diagnosed. Here are some tips from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:
• Lose weight and keep it off. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5% to 7% of your starting weight. For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose 10 to 14 pounds.
• Move more. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. If you have not been active, talk with your health care professional about which activities are best. Start slowly to build up to your goal.
• Eat healthy foods most of the time. Eat smaller portions to reduce the amount of calories you eat each day and help you lose weight. Choosing foods with less fat is another way to reduce calories. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages.
Ask your health care professional about what other changes you can make to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.
Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.