In our modern world, diabetes is, unfortunately, a common ailment, affecting an estimated 11% of Americans. Amongst the more well known types of this condition, type 3 diabetes is a lesser-known variant, although gaining attention due to its intriguing characteristics. It has a unique connection with brain health, specifically Alzheimer's Disease. This complex interplay of cognitive function and metabolic disturbance signals a call for an integrative approach to prevention and treatment.
What is Type 3 Diabetes?
Type 3 diabetes is a novel metabolic disorder distinct from the more common forms of diabetes. What sets it apart is that it manifests as insulin resistance, specifically within the brain. This resistance results in disruptions to insulin signaling, leading to an accumulation of harmful substances and, eventually, neurodegeneration. It's worth noting that insulin resistance, a common trait among various diabetes forms, seems to pave the way for multiple disruptive pathways in type 3 diabetes. Central to the understanding of this health puzzle is hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. These two factors are believed to be major contributors to the development of type 3 diabetes. In fact, when insulin signaling in the hippocampus, a brain area pivotal for memory, is hampered, it detrimentally affects memory and other cognitive functions, hence reinforcing the tie between hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, and conditions like type 3 diabetes and Alzheimer's.
What is The Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease?
The connection between type 3 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease is intriguing, suggesting a significant overlap in the two conditions' root causes. This link insinuates that the impact of diabetes isn't just physical; it also extends to cognitive aspects, affecting memory processing, brain structure, and neuronal communication. Peripheral insulin resistance is also noteworthy; it can lead to changes in brain metabolism, causing increased toxicity, oxidative stress, and inflammation in the brain. This connection between impaired brain insulin signaling and Alzheimer's disease onset forms the basis of type 3 diabetes. Although the precise connection between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes is still being investigated, enough evidence suggests that poorly controlled blood sugar could increase the risk of Alzheimer's. Because of this robust relationship, Alzheimer's is sometimes dubbed "diabetes of the brain" or "type 3 diabetes" (3).
Symptoms of Type 3 Diabetes
- Brain insulin resistance: Basically, the brain isn't able to use insulin properly. This imbalance can lead to all sorts of complications, including problems with brain function and even damage to brain cells.
- Memory and thinking problems: People might have trouble remembering things and thinking clearly, which are also common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
- Damage to brain cells and connections: This is shown by difficulties with brain signals and creates an accumulation of harmful substances in the brain.
- Problems with vision and understanding images: This might mean struggling with reading, balance, judging distances, or even telling colors apart.
Many symptoms can mimic those of Alzheimer's disease due to the direct links (4) :
- Regular forgetfulness: Forgetting where they put things or not remembering important dates or recent events. They might start to rely more on notes or other people to help them remember.
- Trouble with planning or problem-solving: They may struggle with things like keeping track of bills, following recipes, or concentrating. Things they used to do quickly may now take much longer.
- Difficulty with familiar tasks: This could be forgetting the rules of their favorite game or having trouble driving to places they know well.
- Confusion about time or place: They might lose track of dates or seasons and might have trouble understanding things if they're not happening right now. They may even forget where they are at or how they got there.
- Language problems: They could have trouble following a conversation or finding the right words to express themselves. They might even call familiar things by the wrong name.
- Trouble retracing steps: They might start to lose things and not be able to remember how to find them. This might make them think other people are stealing from them.
- Poor judgment: They could start making bad decisions, like not managing their money well, and may also stop caring for themselves properly.
- Social withdrawal: They might lose interest in hobbies or social activities they used to love. They might have trouble keeping up with what's going on or even stop working.
- Mood and personality changes: They might start acting differently or seem agitated or upset.
What Causes Type 3 Diabetes?
Type 3 diabetes arises due to insulin resistance in brain cells, impairing vital functions such as memory and learning. Insulin is critical for delivering glucose (energy) to these cells, but when the process goes awry, brain cells may struggle to get enough energy, potentially leading to cell death or degeneration. This situation is worsened by the accumulation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein, which can damage brain cells further, and is characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, T3DM shares underlying mechanisms with type 2 diabetes and obesity, making individuals with these conditions more susceptible to T3DM. In essence, T3DM is caused by a mix of insulin resistance, disrupted glucose metabolism, vulnerability of brain cells, and problematic protein processing (3).
Functional Medicine Labs to Test That Can Help Individualize Treatment and Prevention for Type 3 Diabetes
Functional medicine labs offer a variety of tests that can help tailor treatment to patients, allowing providers to optimize management strategies.
Glucose Metabolism Assessment for Type 3 Diabetes
The Diabetes Panel by Vibrant America offers testing of glucose tolerance, fasting insulin, and HbA1c. These tests indicate your body's efficiency in processing glucose and can detect insulin resistance, a primary factor in type 3 diabetes.
Systemic Inflammation Evaluation for Type 3 Diabetes
The High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) Test by Boston Heart detects levels of CRP, an inflammation marker. Elevated CRP signifies systemic inflammation, which often links with insulin resistance and type 3 diabetes. Regular CRP monitoring can guide the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions, assisting in the management and prevention of this condition.
Lipid Biomarker Analysis for Type 3 Diabetes
Access Medical Labs provides a comprehensive Lipid Panel, encompassing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Imbalances in lipid biomarkers can elevate the risk of diabetes.
Nutrition for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
For type 3 diabetes, it is becoming clear that certain eating patterns may play a significant role in sustaining brain health. One of these eating patterns is the low-glycemic index (low-GI) diet. This diet utilizes a unique scale to categorize foods based on their blood glucose impact, which plays an important role in diabetes management. A low-GI diet incorporates foods that have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels, which can be a good choice for individuals who aim to control their weight, manage diabetes, or reduce their risk of heart disease. It's worth noting that this diet doesn't restrict the variety of foods but encourages healthier selections based on their glycemic index.
Complementing this dietary approach, a promising body of research is also examining the possible protective effects of the Mediterranean diet and its derivative, the MIND diet, on cognitive health. The former emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and unsaturated fats, while the latter specifically targets foods associated with dementia prevention. Both diets have been linked to cognitive benefits and a lower risk of dementia in several studies.
Analyzing how these diets may potentially prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease, it's worth noting that they might affect biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation, associated with the disease. Moreover, these diets can indirectly contribute to Alzheimer's prevention by addressing other risk factors, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Notably, the Mediterranean diet may improve cardiovascular health, which can, in turn, reduce dementia risk. It also might increase specific nutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, potentially protecting the brain (11,12).
Supplements and Herbs for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
For patients interested in supplements and herbs, Panax ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and vitamin E are evidence-based solutions that may help reduce symptomatology.
Panax Ginseng for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
Overall, studies suggest that Panax ginseng leads to an improvement in cognitive symptoms related to Alzheimer’s. Notably, a long-term study involving Korean Red Ginseng suggested that its positive effects on cognitive function can be sustained over a 2-year follow-up period.
Dose: 4.5 mg/day
Duration: Max effect noted by 24 weeks
Ginkgo Biloba for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
Generally speaking, Ginkgo Biloba supplementation seems to effectively decrease the cognitive difficulties typically associated with Alzheimer's disease. This natural supplement appears to bring about a marked improvement in cognitive function associated with Alzheimer's disease. Research indicates that patients with Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia, who supplemented with Ginkgo Biloba, exhibited better cognitive performance and a reduction in neuropsychiatric symptoms compared to those on placebo.
Dose: 240 mg daily
Duration: 24 weeks
Vitamin E for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
Vitamin E, especially in the form of alpha-tocopherol, shows promise in slowing the progression of type 3 diabetes. This antioxidant nutrient seems to shield brain cells from oxidative damage, a factor linked to the neuronal damage seen in Alzheimer’s. Research indicates that Alzheimer's patients supplementing with alpha-tocopherol experienced slower functional decline. Furthermore, a study involving both alpha-tocopherol and a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, selegiline, demonstrated significant delays in disease progression.
Dose: 2,000 IU/day
Duration: 6 months
Exercise for Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer's Prevention
Regular physical activity in the context of diabetes is underscored by its positive correlations with disease prevention, improved management, and a decrease in associated health complications and mortality. The correlation between exercise and glucose management in diabetes type 1 and 2 suggests that exercise may suggest a reduction in the risk of developing type 3 diabetes, highlighting the preventive potential of regular physical activity in this context. Exercise has a proven track record of regulating blood sugar levels. By aiding in glucose transport into cells, thereby lowering blood glucose levels, exercise plays a vital role in diabetes management. This action directly addresses the core of diabetes-related issues, potentially reducing the risk of type 3 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease (19,20).
In summary, type 3 diabetes represents a unique intersection of metabolic and neurological health, thus demanding a comprehensive, integrative approach for its management. This approach combines the use of strategic diagnostic testing, dietary strategies, suitable exercise, and evidence-based use of supplements and herbs. It's worth noting that recognizing and understanding this complex relationship can greatly enhance our capabilities to prevent, manage and treat this condition in the future.
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