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Rising Blood Sugar May Harm the Aging Brain
Date:12/30/2008

And exercise might help offset the effect, study suggests

TUESDAY, Dec. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have unmasked what appears to be a major mechanism contributing to normal, age-related cognitive decline.

Happily, it's a mechanism that is amenable to change: rising blood glucose levels, which means that exercise might be the antidote.

Researchers reporting in the December issue of Annals of Neurology showed that rising blood sugar levels, a normal part of aging, affect a part of the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical to learning and memory.

"This would suggest that anything to improve regulation of blood glucose would potentially be a way to ameliorate age-related memory decline," said senior study author Dr. Scott Small, an associate professor of neurology at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

The findings may also help explain why people who exercise don't have as many cognitive problems as they age: Exercise helps stabilize blood glucose levels.

"We had previously shown that physical exercise strengthens a part of the brain involved with aging but, at the time, we didn't know why physical exercise would have this selective benefit," Small said. "Now we have a proposed mechanism. We think it's because subjects who exercised had better glucose handling."

It's well known that damage to the hippocampus is evident with Alzheimer's disease, and there has been some suggestion that this region of the brain is also affected by normal aging.

The researchers used MRI to record the functioning of the hippocampus in 240 healthy older people (average age almost 80). Sixty of the participants had type 2 diabetes, while 74 had brain "infarcts" -- some damage to brain tissue. Diabetes and infarcts were each linked with separate areas of the hippocampus, indicating that diff
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