Is diabetes shrinking my brain?
April 29th, 2014
08:51 AM ET

Is diabetes shrinking my brain?

It's not a secret that some diabetics also have memory issues, but a new study suggests it's not just due to clogging of blood vessels - your brain may actually be shrinking.

When the brain shrinks, it's often because valuable brain cells that help us think and remember are dying. A loss of brain cells is a hallmark for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

In this new study, published in the journal Radiology, researchers looked at brain scans from a little more than 600 people age 55 and older with type 2 diabetes.  They found that patients who lived with diabetes the longest had smaller brain volumes.

"When you lose brain cells, you lose the capacity for more complex thoughts and memory," says Dr. R. Nick Bryan, lead author of the study.

"Diabetes may be a risk factor for things like Alzheimer's disease," says Bryan, chair and professor emeritus at the Department of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. " We didn't prove that, but we suggest that."

Up until about five years ago, experts thought memory and cognitive problems related to diabetes were largely due to problems with blood clots in the brain. But Bryan's new imaging study builds on other research, which points to brain shrinkage as a potentially stronger link to the development of cognitive decline in diabetics.

"Somehow diabetes is doing something to the brain that results in tissue loss (death of cells)," says Dr. Rosebud Roberts, professor of epidemiology and neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved with this new research.

Roberts says scientists are still trying to understand why cells are dying. Their best guess is that it's related to both too little and too much glucose in the brain.  Glucose is the brain's food and when you have diabetes, brain cells may not be getting enough nutrients, so they can die. Another possibility is that too much glucose in the brain can also kill cells.

The brain of a diabetic "metabolizes glucose and oxygen differently than people who don't have diabetes," says Bryan, because destructive free radicals are possibly produced.

"Diabetes can lead to what is in essence a faster aging process," says Dr. Gail Musen, investigator at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, who was also not involved in this new research.

Her advice to diabetics is to keep the condition under control: "Exercise, eat right, go to your doctor, lose weight if you need to and take your medicine." These lifestyle changes won't prevent the brain shrinkage, Musen says, but they will slow down the process - and the sooner you start, the better.

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soundoff (843 Responses)
  1. Adam

    I am so smart. S-M-R-T.

    April 29, 2014 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • coal minds

      "I mean S-M-A-R-T". Simpsons used to be hilarious.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
    • stopterror

      Mostly liberals have diabet gene

      April 29, 2014 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
    • Dover

      "Mostly liberals have diabet gene"

      First of all, it is spelled "diabetes" and second of all, your guy lost the election....TWICE!

      April 29, 2014 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • dike

      "Mostly liberals have diabet gene"

      "First of all, it is spelled "diabetes" and second of all, your guy lost the election....TWICE!"

      Now they have lost their mind too. I guess hatred shrinks the brain more than diabetes.

      April 29, 2014 at 17:41 | Report abuse |
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      April 29, 2014 at 23:15 | Report abuse |
  2. Corey

    Can this affect type 1 diabetics too?1?!?!

    April 29, 2014 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leslie B.

      That's what I want to know, too.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:07 | Report abuse |
    • martin

      since it is being caused by both "too little" and "too much" glucose, I would assume that DM I patients face the same problem.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • Lucius

      Chances are, it's worse for people with Type 1 Diabetes because they produce little to no insulin on their own. People with Type 2 Diabetes still produces enough insulin, they just need a boost, which helps them to better regulate their glucose levels.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      If the damage is related to glucose balance, I imagine the consequences depend more on your level of control than whether you're type 1 or 2, but they seem to be a little shaky on that point, don't they?

      April 29, 2014 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
    • gobsmacked

      Good question. I am type 1 also. I think it may depend. It is often speculated that certain things (complications and other disease processes such as heart disease) that happen with type 2 happen because the process that causes type 2 ALSO causes these other problems, and not that they are the direct result of having type 2 itself. And/or, I think you may be able to look at your health as a type 1 and if you have complications (for example, do you have nerve problems, eye problems, circulation problems, kidney problems), and get a reasonable idea of how your body is coping overall with your type 1 condition.

      April 29, 2014 at 14:38 | Report abuse |
    • williepitt

      I say no. I can claim some degree of evidence, being 79 years old and having had diabetes since I was 3.

      April 29, 2014 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
    • Eeyore

      While I sympathize, how do you know your brain hasn't shrunk?

      April 29, 2014 at 18:45 | Report abuse |
  3. Seriously?

    Interesting that the politard dingbats seem to be able to make the first posts, but have the most spelling mistakes. Perhaps being a myopic cheerleaders for a bunch of thieves shrinks one's brain as well.

    April 29, 2014 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Steve

    Awesome, Now I can be discriminated for that to.,

    April 29, 2014 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. tm1946

    Thanks, sure glad to know this. Here I would thinking I was getting old or worse senile. Now I have a debetes to blame it on. The American way, blame someone else or something.

    My brain is shrinking, my brain is shrinking....what a bunch of hog wash.

    April 29, 2014 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tm1946

      Almost forgot, senile remember, I do not have diabetes. must be something else.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:38 | Report abuse |
    • hogwash

      My mother was a Type I diabetic and passed away at age 52. The could not get her blood sugar regulated for much of her life. Fought it always so it's not always about diet, exercise and control. She lost much of her cognitive function and MRI's and brain scans showed that her frontal lobe was much smaller than it should have been so shut up tm1946 and don't talk about what you don't know.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
    • Hogan's Goat

      You don't sound as though you had a big brain to begin with. Was there a point you wanted to make? Maybe it was "science confuses me?"

      April 29, 2014 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
    • Steve Wand

      Interesting subject. My mother was diagnosed with diabetes just after she had a second mild then a third major stroke. She then went from walking/talking to bedridden then death in 16 months without further signs of strokes at age 71. The doctors said that her brain was die-ing due to diabetes and high blood pressure. We did not believe the doctors, who had put her on 8 meds and changed them every 60 days. But I can see the possibilities with diabetes as a major factor. ....we'll never know.

      April 29, 2014 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
  6. Jim

    So this explains the amount of people who are tea party members and vote republican. Most of them are overweight, poorly educated book banners.

    April 29, 2014 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mark

      Or moronic trolls who bait people with sarcastic comments.....Just saying!

      April 29, 2014 at 16:37 | Report abuse |
    • dike

      I am a democrat and I hope people like you are in the minority, in both parties else we will just be fighting each other out of hatred.

      April 29, 2014 at 17:47 | Report abuse |
  7. aaron

    Are for profit mainstream media propaganda outlets and TV shrinking our populations brains?

    April 29, 2014 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ss


    April 29, 2014 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jrock

    I don't think it's the diabetes that is shrinking your brain, it's the gluttony which causes diabetes that is shrinking your brain.

    April 29, 2014 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eeyore

      You know, some people have diabetes, which can be treated. You, on the other hand, are a jerk and there's no treatment for that.

      April 29, 2014 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
    • Hogan's Goat

      Man, you just wasted half your brain cells to say that?

      April 29, 2014 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
    • Rob G

      You obviously don't know what you're talking about. It's people like you that spread this bull. I suggest you read up on diabetes and try to learn something...

      April 29, 2014 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
  10. Citizen Kane

    Rosebud . . .

    April 29, 2014 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Marlon Lara

    It is called Cerebral atrophy. No one dies from diabetes, they die due to complications associated with diabetes. Diabetes destroys organs and it complicates existing conditions.

    April 29, 2014 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Carolyn

    Quit eating carbs, use ketones for energy, and you won't have any of these problems. The research backs this up. The Food Pyramid is poison.

    April 29, 2014 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      Everyone who has a 'food theory' says theirs is the only proven way. Get in line behind the brown rice eaters, the vegans, the fruitarians, the vegetarians, the cave man diet, the Atkins Diet, the See Food Diet, binging and purging and colon cleansing, macrobiotics, kung fu, and tofu. I'm sure you mean well, but you probably just have OCD about your food.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
    • Type1Ninja

      I could do all that and I'd still die without insulin. Some people have diabetes because that's what life dealt them. I was 14 years old and 70 pounds when I was diagnosed. What did I do wrong, according to you, to deserve a lifetime of medical hassles?

      April 29, 2014 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  13. Carolyn

    Alzheimer's is Type 3 Diabetes. High Fructose Corn Syrup and the Food Pyramid will kill you. Turn off the carbs and you turn of the need for insulin. Eat a ketonic diet and you will heal.

    April 29, 2014 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Running Diabetic

      If this were true then all Type 1's would be cured. You need insulin to survive – does not matter if you never eat a carb again.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:20 | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      You cannot just stop carbs. You have to regulate carbs. There's a condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis. If you are diabetic and do not have enough blood gloucose, your body will consume fats. This creates acidosis in a diabetic person. This kills us.
      People need to stop blaming all diabetes on eating too much sugar. This is something that can develop otherwise. I never ate too much carbs or sugar, but I became insulin resistant. Problems with the endocrine system can bring it on.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
    • Laurence


      Sorry, but you have no idea what you're talking about. What you are referring to when a diabetic does not have enough blood glucose and the body consumes body fat is hypoglycemia...Severe hyperglycemia, or excess glucose in the body, is what leads to diabetic ketoacidosis. Research your stuff before you go on here pretending to know what you are talking about.

      April 29, 2014 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
    • sarah

      your body will consume its fats anyways it does that all the time even if you starve or don't starve yourself

      December 2, 2014 at 08:52 | Report abuse |
  14. Kelly Vickers

    I suspect the culprit isn't diabetes but the medications used to treat it. That said, sadly for me, the answer is still diet and exercise.

    April 29, 2014 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      Why would you suspect the medicine? It's well-known that high sugar concentrations are bad for your cells. Diabetes increases the sugar in your blood. The medicines are well-understood and have been used for years, although new stuff is always being tested. The only possible treatment for diabetes is reducing blood sugar in some way, and all the carbs you eat become sugar as you digest them. No, it's got to be the sugar. Dr House always says if you hear hoofbeats, it won't be zebras.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:35 | Report abuse |
  15. John

    "Is diabetes shrinking my brain"? Is that English?

    April 29, 2014 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      What part of it do you have trouble with, and is it 'cognitive trouble?' Is diabetes shrinking my brain? Does it confuse you that the word 'is' comes first? What about when the word 'does' comes first? Do ordinary words sometimes look weird after you look at them too long? Aw, you're probably OK.

      April 29, 2014 at 13:40 | Report abuse |
    • Eeyore

      Hogan's Goat, you're an optimist. I doubt John is "okay."

      April 29, 2014 at 18:46 | Report abuse |
  16. Matthew

    Now we know why the country is becoming more liberal.

    April 29, 2014 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hogan's Goat

      Political nonsense on this story? How far HAS your poor old brain shrunk? Get a life.

      April 29, 2014 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
  17. Mike McDermott

    Alzheimers is the progressive deteriorating ability of the kidneys to filter the blood resulting in lethal deposits on the brain. Kidneys are the pharmacy of the body, and in addition to filtering blood, they regulate the electrolytes, including calcium. With too much calcium in the system due to a progressively deteriorating kidney condition, blood vessels then become coated with calcium causing "hardening of the arteries." This action then is the reason why brain cells then become coated with calcium and die, causing shrinkage.

    April 29, 2014 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. claudefm

    It is extremely difficult to explain to a diabetic 2 patient what he has to face and how the best treatment is to rethink his life style, he can reverse part of his status at least stop to aggravate it. The perception of diabetes 2 is still not perceived as induced by eating and behaving, and easy avoidable early in life

    April 29, 2014 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. T

    Medical Researchers better get off their asses and find a damn cure soon !
    There's Nothing worse than losing your mind, period.

    April 29, 2014 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. TheMovieFan

    I hope this is true. I suspect that someone from my past who put me through the wringer has type II.

    April 29, 2014 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eat me

      Yeah, we all appreciate your petty Ill will towards your ex. Choose better next time instead of condemning a whole segment of the population.

      May 3, 2014 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
  21. Steven Gold

    In one study, those who had high levels of physical activity, a healthy diet, did not smoke, and consumed alcohol in moderation had an 82% lower rate of diabetes. When a normal weight was included, the rate was 89% lower.
    Most people don't try to be healthy until they get really sick.

    April 29, 2014 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jaff

    I refer to Type Two diabetes as FAKE diabetes. Consider this: Two people are stranded on an island with only nuts, berries, and fish to eat. One person is a Type 1 Diabetic, and the other a Type 2 Diabetic. Guess what happens? The Type 1 Diabetic dies and the Type 2 Diabetic is cured. Quit complaining about your diabetes and take care of yourself.

    Type 1

    April 29, 2014 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daphster

      Wow, Jaff that is really harsh. I am type 2 diabetic, wait I am type 1 Juevinile onset, wait I am type 2 again, no wait I am type 1.5. These are all things I have been told by various endocrinologists. I went deaf at the age of 19, Diabetes is the cuplprit. I had a heart attack at age 44 due to Small Vessel Narrowing Disease – diabetes again is ithe culprit so please dont. I walk 6-7 miles a day, I ride my bike to work, I eat very healthy and between 900-1200 calories per day. I am still 60lbs overweight. If I were on that island I promise you I would die right along with the diabetic type 1. So it is hurtful to see these comments regarding type 2 diabetics and how its because they are lazy, eat too many carbs and sugar, and its their own fault. What did I do to deserve what has happened to me? All I can do is not give up and continue to do my best to exercise, eat healthy, see my doctor, and take my meds but the heart attack and deafness still happened. I would be dead at this point if I didnt continue to try to be healthy.

      April 30, 2014 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
  23. esbrent

    Another reason for me to plan to kill myself just before I become a burden to others. This news does not make me happy. The article even says that doing the right things will not prevent brain shrinkage, but will slow it down. Live life to the fullest while you can. That's what I plan to do.

    April 29, 2014 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Observer

    If life seems jolly rotten
    There's something you've forgotten
    And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
    When you're feeling in the dumps
    Don't be silly chumps
    Just purse your lips and whistle
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    And...always look on the bright
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    April 29, 2014 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Dr. Michele Ross

    The cause is not a mystery. Diabetes reduces adult hippocampal neurogenesis, aka reduces new brain cells formed in the hippocampus, your learning & memory center. Over time this will lead to reduced hippocampal volume as well as cognitive defects. Interestingly, stess, alcohol, adderall, cocaine and amphetamine will also do this to you, while marijuana, anti-depressants and exercise have the opposite effect.

    Bottom line: smoke marijuana instead of eating mcdonalds. you'll be skinnier and your brain will work. Source – a PhD Neuroscientist published on adult neurogenesis

    April 29, 2014 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. LearnUSA

    I wonder if it is because of long term usage of Artificial sweeteners by many Diabetics....

    April 29, 2014 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Mister Fizter

    Help us please BioHub......you're our only hope, stuck in development hell.

    April 29, 2014 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Verimius

    An estimated 26 million people have type II diabetes in the US, either diagnosed or not. That must be dragging down the average IQ of the population.

    April 29, 2014 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. mitchgam

    Maybe this explains why the Republican party is made up of older males

    April 29, 2014 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. puddintane

    smoking dope will fix that again, say dopers

    April 29, 2014 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Palin Speeches shrink brains

    Palin speeches shrink the already pea sized brains of Teatards.

    April 29, 2014 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eeyore

      How many names are you planning to use, fvcktard?

      April 29, 2014 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • What difference does it make EyeSore

      Hey super sleuth? What difference does it make EyeSore? You must be proud to be a true GOPer that hates the Old, Sick, and Poor people.

      April 30, 2014 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
    • Eeyore

      What's the matter, Timmy Suck-face? Diddums widdle feelings get hurt?

      April 30, 2014 at 14:27 | Report abuse |
    • No EyeSore

      No EyeSore. Why would MY feelings be hurt when YOU are the one that belongs to the GOP. The party that hates the Old, Sick, and Poor people. You must feel proud to belong to such a group.

      April 30, 2014 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
    • No, Timmy, dear

      You are really striking out right and left, simpleton. I am a registered Democrat in one of the bluest of the blue states. I rarely vote for anyone in the Republican party other than those who are basically RINOs.

      Don't play the lottery, dumbbell.

      April 30, 2014 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • EyeSore did vote for Palin

      EyeSore did vote for Palin. And he also works for part of the medical cartels. Please explain why the medical cartel's PACs spend billions lobbying against a single payer system when Palin voters (like you) think a single payer system would cost you little people more. If a single payer system would cost MORE, then wouldn't the medical cartels WANT the extra money?

      April 30, 2014 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
  32. farzana

    I have bp and diabetes.why do I have severe pain in my leg?

    April 30, 2014 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Julia Kate

    It is necessary to take proper health care to reduce the problem of diabetes.

    May 2, 2014 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.