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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 00:46 GMT
High blood sugar affects memory
Cross section of the brain
The brain needs a supply of glucose to work effectively
High blood sugar levels could be linked to poor memory, researchers have suggested.

The finding could help explain why people can suffer problems with their memories as they get older.

And memory could be improved through exercise and weight loss, which help control blood sugar levels.

High blood sugar levels, which show someone cannot transfer glucose into tissues where it is broken down, can be an indication of diabetes.

Impaired glucose regulation is associated with memory dysfunction

Antonio Convit, New York University
Glucose is needed to "fuel" the body. It had been thought that the brain's supply was protected, but it is now known that is not true for diabetics.

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine looked at 30 men and women, aged 53 to 89, who had not been diagnosed with diabetes.

But some of those studied had higher than normal glucose levels, a condition called impaired glucose tolerance which can lead to diabetes.

Fuel needs

Doctors focussed on the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial for learning and memory.

Researchers performed MRI brain scans to measure the size of the hippocampus, and carried out memory and cognition tests.

Patients' ability to process glucose was tested following an overnight fast.

The group with impaired glucose tolerance all had a smaller hippocampus and scored worse on tests of their short-term memory.

The researchers suggest that trying to remember things puts too much pressure on the "fuel" supplies in those with impaired glucose tolerance, leading to memory problems.

The hippocampus is a particularly vulnerable area, they say, and may be damaged over time.

Impairment

Antonio Convit, associate professor of psychiatry and medical director for the Center for Brain Health at the NYU School of Medicine, said: "We have demonstrated that impaired glucose regulation is associated with memory dysfunction and shrinkage of the hippocampus.

"Our study suggests that this impairment may contribute to the memory deficits that occur as people age, and it raises the intriguing possibility that improving glucose tolerance could reverse some age-associated problems in cognition."

"If our results are confirmed then they may have significant treatment implications given that diabetes and obesity are reaching epidemic proportions in the US.

He added: "There are a large number of middle aged and elderly individuals with impaired glucose metabolism and memory dysfunction."

Dr Eleanor Kennedy, research manager of Diabetes UK, told BBC News Online: "This is a small but interesting study.

"It highlights what we already know from the UK Prospective Diabetes study, that tight control is beneficial in many ways, including the prevention of long-term complications.

"We will be interested to see further work on this."

The research is published in the online edition of the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

See also:

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