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Study: High Blood Sugar, Not Just Diabetes, Tied To Greater Dementia Risk

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High levels of blood sugar raise a person’s risk of dementia, even if they don’t have diabetes.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

High levels of blood sugar raise a person’s risk of dementia, even if they don’t have diabetes. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

CBS Seattle (con't)

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SEATTLE (CBS SEATTLE) – High levels of blood sugar raise a person’s risk of dementia, even if they don’t have diabetes.

A new study published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine tracked blood sugar over time in people who both did and did not have diabetes to see if the risk for Alzheimer’s became greater.

According to lead researcher, Dr. Paul Crane of the University of Washington in Seattle, the results of the study challenge current medical thinking by showing it’s not just high glucose levels that are a concern for dementia risk.

“The most interesting finding was that every incrementally higher glucose level was associated with a higher risk of dementia in people who did not have diabetes,” Crane said in a statement to CBS News.

“It’s a nice, clean pattern” – risk rises as blood sugar does, added Dallas Anderson, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging, the federal agency that paid for the study. “This is part of a larger picture” and adds evidence that exercising and controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are a viable way to delay or prevent dementia, he said.

Nearly 35 million people worldwide have dementia. In the United States alone, about 5 million have Alzheimer’s disease. The causes of the mind-destroying disease aren’t known. Current treatments just temporarily ease symptoms.

Crane also added that eating less sugary foods may not be of help to everyone.

“Your body turns your food into glucose, so your blood sugar levels depend not only on what you eat but also on your individual metabolism: how your body handles your food,” he said in a statement. Walking and physical activity could help, added Crane.

The study of 2,067 people aged 65 and older was conducted within the Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based health care system. Each study participant had at least five blood-sugar tests within the past few years and 232 participants had diabetes at the start of the research.

Following nearly seven years of follow-ups, 524, or one-quarter of them, had developed dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form. The study found that participants with higher glucose levels from the previous five years had an 18 percent greater risk of dementia.

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