August 3rd, 2010
12:59 PM ET

Could type 2 diabetes damage a young brain?

Children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes already are huffing and puffing on the playground - a new study indicates they may also be stressing and straining in the classroom.  Obese children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes performed worse on cognitive tests (tests that measure thinking ability) compared to obese children who did not have type 2 diabetes, according to a new study in the journal Diabetologia.

"Everyone talks about losing toes or problems with kidneys after having diabetes for 20 years, but no one is thinking about the brain as a site of complications," said Dr. Antonio Convit, professor of psychiatry and medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a member of the Nathan Kline Institute. "This is the first concrete evidence that the brain suffers complications of type 2 diabetes as early as during adolescence."

Convit and colleagues gave cognitive tests and MRI scans to 18 obese children with type 2 diabetes, and 18 obese children who did not have type 2 diabetes.  The children with type 2 diabetes scored lower on tests of learning, memory, spelling, reading and decision-making.  They also had lower IQ.

"These kids can't really learn in the same way and don't do as well in school as other obese kids [without type 2 diabetes]," said Convit. "And when compared to lean kids, they do a lot less well."

Previous studies have found similar cognitive problems among adults, but the explanation for those issues is murky. Scientists can not tell whether the cognitive problems are a result of a type 2 diabetes, or vascular problems which could also affect the brain.

Studying a younger population with type 2 diabetes - before they develop more serious health problems, paints a slightly clearer picture. The study reads in part "..in the absence of clinically significant vascular disease, there may be clear brain complications among adolescents with type 2 diabetes."

But how might type 2 diabetes - a disease usually associated with heart problems and stroke - be affecting how we think?  It helps to know how the brain functions.  The brain needs ample amounts of sugar (specifically, glucose) to operate.  If the brain was a car, the gasoline would be glucose.  Type 2 diabetes is, by definition, a problem regulating glucose.  If not enough of it reaches the brain, delicate systems that help the brain run smoothly could falter.

"What's really dramatic about this is that everyone knows that kids who are obese are very likely not to live as long as their parents," said Convit. "This adds another piece of the puzzle...the brain is also affected."

Still, a young brain is a malleable brain. And while there is no way of knowing yet whether cognitive problems can be reversed with exercise and dramatic weight loss, Convit says it certainly could not hurt.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Just a Bloke

    Thank you Captain Obvious. Can we list each and every possible issue those with Type 2 Diabetes face in order to convince us MORE how it is a horrible illness? I am just NOT convinced. Let's spend millions more to examine every possible health issue, social issue, financial issue those with this illness face.

    Next up, I require massive amounts of over studying done on WHY death ends a person living. When a person dies, do their toes wiggle? Their ears twitch? Their eyes blink? I need to know about every inch of the body to be sure because I am not convinced that when someone says a person died that they are truly dead.

    August 3, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Trollysses

      Bloke..you're a joke.

      August 3, 2010 at 17:46 | Report abuse |
    • C A

      Given that Type 2 diabetes is one of the top five killers of people in the US, the more studies they do, the better. Prevention is the key to reducing the long-term effects of this illness, and it is far more complicated than most people realize. If you believe your life will be free from illness or medical challenges, good for you. But please understand that the remaining majority of people in the US might recognize their chances of dealing with some major illness at some point in their life, and might find this information helpful.

      August 3, 2010 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • comment

      They have to ask the right questions and get answers to them. They don't seem to want to know the answer to this very bad. They study about everything around it, but they really don't seem to want to look at the most likely culprits. We appear to be the human experiment. Hope we survive past the next couple of generations, or the only people that will live past this are the ones in highly isolated countries that weren't subject to the food, water, medical systems that we have here.

      August 4, 2010 at 00:31 | Report abuse |
  2. comment

    yes too much to type here, but yes.

    August 4, 2010 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • comment

      This is the best description I have found to date:


      August 4, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse |
  3. Dr. Mama

    One more reason to attack the childhood obesity epidemic with a vengeance. We have the information now, folks. Why aren't we putting more pressure on fast food companies and the mega snack making corporations to invest resources into solving the problem? As consumers (and parents) we have the power. We must use it.

    AND, we must fight it at home, too. Get the junk out of the pantry.


    August 4, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Allie

    The same risks apply to Type I diabetics as well. There are vascular changes in diabetics period. While I completely understand the need to address Type II (as it is preventable) we need to remember that ALL children with chronic disease have learning that is affected in some way or another. As a school nurse, I see that on a daily basis.

    August 4, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. PrettyOldLady

    Sadly with the diabetes and obesity problem The drug makers do not tell the people that a filmmaker has been reversing peoples type 2 diabetes and obesity without any medication or removing sugar. The problem is NOT from over eating

    Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

    August 4, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Katie Patel

    diabetes is a serious disease but it can be avoided by having an physically active lifestyle~*:

    August 12, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Zoey Diaz

    diabetes can really crap your body, i now resort to sugar free foods";,

    October 1, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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