A Clear Link Between Memory and Blood Sugar Levels Points to Future Research Needs

High blood sugar is dangerous, especially if your body has trouble producing insulin. Diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to more serious problems later in life — but a study recently published in Neurology finds a significant link between blood sugar and memory. Specifically, maintaining low blood sugar can help preserve memory.

Could Lowering Blood Sugar Improve Memory?

CBS reports that Dr. Agnes Floel, a neuroscientist at Charite University Medicine in Berlin, Germany and the lead author of the study, says that the research shows that even people with normal blood sugar levels could benefit from memory preservation by lowering their levels. It’s tricky, however, because the body can’t function well with too little blood sugar, either.

Previous research does prove that there’s a clear link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s recognized as a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. But this particular study looks at the other end of the spectrum — if high blood sugar can have a negative impact on memory, researchers hypothesized that the opposite could be true.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels Associated with Better Memory

The study includes 140 participants with an average age of 63 and not previously diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes (where blood sugar is elevated above the typical levels, but not high enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for diabetes). Any participant with a pre-existing memory problem was excluded from the research.

Participants were split into groups based on their blood glucose levels and asked to take memory assessments. Those with lower blood sugar levels scored better on memory tests than those with higher levels. As with most research, this study doesn’t fully answer all related questions but does point to future research opportunities — in this case, more research could determine whether external factors contribute to memory retention, such as caloric restriction or physical activity.

Abundance of Research Proves Blood Sugar-Alzheimer’s Link

There has been other research into the link between blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s disease. CBS reports, “In August, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle who tracked blood sugar in people with and without diabetes over seven years found higher glucose levels were associated with a higher risk of dementia among non-diabetics.”

However, researchers point out that this study only proves a correlation between one reading of blood glucose and memory. Correlation means an association — but does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. So while this finding is intriguing, it doesn’t reveal whether memory loss is actually caused by higher glucose levels or that lowering glucose levels would have any positive effects on memory. These studies are more difficult to implement and require long-term monitoring — so they can be expensive to implement, and it’s also a more invasive research process as participants’ glucose levels would have to be intentionally manipulated by researchers to rule out confounding variables, or other factors that could be influencing the results that are out of the researchers’ direct control.

Key Takeaways

Unfortunately, there’s not much the average person can do independently to lower their blood sugar levels, especially if they’re already within normal range. And doing so could be dangerous if the individual isn’t being closely monitored by a physician — if your blood glucose levels get too low, side effects can include feelings of shakiness, rapid heart rate, and sweating.

But it can be much more serious than that. “If quickly and appropriately treated, it is more of an inconvenience than a cause for alarm. However, severe hypoglycemia that causes mental confusion, antagonistic behaviors, unconsciousness, or seizures is a reason for alarm,” according to Joslin.org, the world’s largest diabetes research and clinical care organization.

Still, you can take part in activities that are linked to lower blood sugar, such as regular physical exercise and healthy eating habits. These behaviors will provide your body with the nutrients and strength it needs to function at its finest — while offering some potential under-the-radar benefits to ward off conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.  Regular exercise and a healthy diet lower your risk of developing diabetes and is also linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association reports on clinical trials and other research that proves there are clear benefits and reductions in risk for individuals who practice healthy living habits.

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Post by Angela Stringfellow

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