Is Alzheimer’s disease the New Type III Diabetes?

Monday April 1, 2013

Growing research is suggesting insulin resistance may be a link between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes mellitus. A study published by the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 demonstrated that patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience insulin resistance1. Insulin is a hormone that, among other functions, enhances the health of brain cells and memory function, especially short term memory2. Insulin resistance frequently occurs due to chronic high levels of blood sugar. High blood pressure, obesity, and unhealthy levels of cholesterol are also associated with type II diabetes, and may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The implications of this study are astounding for those struggling with obesity. In addition to the risk of developing type II diabetes in the near future, overweight adults and their families may also have to face the pain of cognitive loss and the monetary strain associated with Alzheimer’s.  According to the National Institute of Health, people with Type II Diabetes are at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Type II diabetes has a prevalence of nearly 20 percent in Americans over the age of 603, and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease4. These are both serious diseases that many Americans face, but diseases in which a healthy lifestyle can have a drastic impact.

These findings provide hope in the medical field, however. Researchers are beginning to study whether new or existing diabetes medications could be used to slow down or reverse cognitive decline by resensitizing the brain to insulin. This research is only in its beginning stages, and it may be years before conclusive findings are uncovered. For now, there are lifestyle changes that can be made to decrease the risks for developing type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Regular exercise and proper diet are crucial components of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as losing weight. Being overweight, especially with excess weight around the midsection of the body, dramatically increases the risk of type II diabetes.

So what can you do? Get up and get moving! A healthy lifestyle can decrease your risk of type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. For fresh ideas on how you can improve your health, stop by the UNC Wellness Center for our health education and fitness clinics.



1.        Talbot, K. et al. Demonstrated brain insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s disease patients is associated with IGF-1 resistance, IRS-1 dysregulation, and cognitive decline. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2012;122(4):1316–1338. doi:10.1172/JCI59903.

2.        Benedict, C. et al. Intranasal insulin improves memory in humans. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004:29(10):1326-1334.

3.        Alzheimer’s Disease: Unraveling the Mystery. National Institute of Aging. National Institute of Health. 2008.

4.        Alzheimer’s Association. 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. March 2012; 8:131–168.