Diabetes is linked with early cognitive dysfunction

Woman losing parts of head as symbol of decreased mind function.

Disturbing statistics show a sharp rise in cases of dementia in the elderly. Often times, the diagnosis comes late in the process when irreversible damage has been done. But what if we could catch the disease process early and stop or even reverse it? With more and more evidence demonstrating Alzheimer’s as a disease of impaired glucose metabolism, there is hope that treating diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome may also treat the risk for cognitive decline. Low-carb diets feature prominently in that treatment plan.

While most studies focus on dementia after it has been diagnosed, a wave of studies are now looking for earlier signs. A recent study in adults in Ecuador showed those with diabetes were more likely to have impairment in executive function, memory and attention compared to controls. These are early changes that frequently precede more advanced cognitive decline such as dementia.

Healio Endocrine Today: Diabetes may worsen cognitive function in middle age

As this was an observational trial, it is impossible to control for all variables, but they attempted to control for educational status, depression, hypertension and other baseline medical conditions. They still found significantly lower performance in those with diabetes. Also of note, this study included adults younger than 65 years old. Multiple studies have shown an association between dementia and diabetes in elderly patients, but this is one of the first to show earlier cognitive decline in younger patients. This gives greater hope for being able to diagnose the problem earlier, intervene earlier, and thus reverse the condition or at least prevent progression.

However, it isn’t clear that treating diabetes with insulin and oral hypoglycemic drugs prevent the deterioration in mental function. The emergence of low carb ketogenic diets as a powerful tool to treat and prevent diabetes may be the key for preventing associated cognitive decline. While this remains to be proven, most people would do anything to prevent a decrease in their cognitive function. A low carb diet is an excellent place to start!

Thanks for reading,
Bret Scher MD FACC


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  1. Shawheen
    This article is describing exactly my own cognitive decline that started 25 years ago. I'm still recovering, 30 months into adopting a ketogenic diet since I discovered DietDoctor. The key I've found is to go zero carb on a carnivore diet, together with 24-48 hours continuous fasting. Insulin sensitivity seems to be THE holy grail for health. It's not easy but I want my sanity back and I'll do anything it take to get there! It's sad to see so many struggling with their health, which is often times directly tied to their diets.
  2. Brenda L Held
    Thanks for your post! I agree 100%!
  3. Brenda L Held
    Great article! We can win this with KETO and IF/EF and Dr Jason Fung!
  4. Gillian
    To TheDietdoctor team, please reseach Donna Schwenk and her work with cultured foods. She advocates all that you do and gives practical assistance through her cultured food to gut health and curbing sugar addiction to name but two benefits. culturedfoodlife.com She would be a bonus to your work.
  5. Kelly
    I just have a query. Is it enough doing LCHF or does one need to go as low as 20g and less a day? For T1 diabetics under 20g a day is dangerous (I am told) and therefore best for T1s to stick to 30g a day. I'm wondering if it's low enough to avoid all these complications or do I have to really turn to strict keto?
    Reply: #6
  6. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor
    That is going to vary from person to person. Some T1s can see success with moderate low carb without a doubt! Keeping blood sugar consistently stable will benefit everyone.

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