Memory Mondays: Glucose Levels and the Risk of Dementia

Memory loss and cognitive decline are often considered the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, recent research suggests a relationship between declining glucose levels and the risk of dementia – and a way to keep these levels from falling.

Doctors have frequently linked glucose level decreases in the brain and the onset of Alzheimer’s. But a study from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM) at Temple University proves falling glucose levels directly trigger cognitive impairments typically associated with the disease.

“In recent years, advances in imaging techniques…have allowed researchers to look for subtle changes in the brains of patients with different dress of cognitive impairment,” said Domenico Praticò, MD, professor in the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM. “One of the changes that has been consistently reported is a decrease in glucose availability in the hippocampus.”

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is crucial for processing and storing memories. This region of the brain, along with others, rely only on glucose to function. Without glucose, neurons starve and eventually die.

In the study, researchers deprived mice of glucose, and observed that the mice:

– Showed signs that neural communication pathways in their brains had broken down

– Had poor performance in maze memory tests

– Displayed dramatically higher amounts of cell death in the brains

The research findings also support the idea that repetitive episodes of glucose deprivation can damage the brain.

“There is a high likelihood that those types of episodes are related to diabetes, which is a condition in which glucose cannot enter the cell,” Dr. Praticò said. “Insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes is a known risk factor for dementia.”

The protein p38, though, may be the focus of preventing such deprivation, according to the study. This protein occurs naturally in the body when deprived of glucose. Its activation, though, makes the problem worse in the long run. As such, it could be an alternate drug target in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a statement.

Moving forward, researchers will look more closely at glucose levels and the risk of dementia. Specifically, they’ll seek to deter p38 to determine whether memory impairments can be alleviated, even with glucose deprivation, according to Dr. Praticò.

“There is now a lot of evidence to suggest that p38 is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “A drug targeting this protein could bring big benefits for patients.”