Blood Sugar Extremes Can Affect Young Brains

Sometimes it feels like diabetes is driving you crazy. But what if the disease is actually changing your brain? That’s the disturbing suggestion of a new study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study suggests that both high and low blood sugars affect the brain development of young people with diabetes, but in different ways.

The study focused on youths with type 1 diabetes.  (Their nondiabetic siblings were used as controls.) The average age of the subjects was 12-½ years old. Their brains were scanned and studied once, then examined again two years later. The results were then combined with data about the patients’ diabetic control over that same time span.

The scientists found that the youths with many high blood sugars (more hyperglycemia) had less grey matter than those with better control. They also found that subjects who had lots of low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) had less occipital-parietal white matter.

“Within diabetes, exposure to hyperglycemia and severe hypoglycemia may result in subtle deviation from normal developmental trajectories of the brain,” the study’s authors wrote.

The study offers no conclusion about what these changes in brain development actually mean for young (or old) people with diabetes. The authors point out that the overall impact of diabetes on developing brains and nervous systems is simply not well understood. This work offers a beginning to understanding these effects. Future studies could determine the effects on the mental faculties of people with diabetes.

The new paper, “Prospectively Determined Impact of Type 1 Diabetes on Brain Volume During Development,” appears in the November issue of the journal Diabetes.




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