Alzheimer s and diabetes: Cause? Effect? Neither?

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diabetesMore often than not, significant medical discoveries arise unintentionally. But frequently a clever observation is critical to the discovery. Penicillin is probably the best example of this.

More recently, Viagra was designed to treat angina, but it failed in clinical studies. When study participants refused to return the clinical samples, a clever Pfizer scientist put it all together, the result being the first drug for erectile dysfunction. Serendipity has always been part of medical research, but it is not simply luck.

Although it is quite preliminary, it is possible that Georgetown University neurologist R. Scott Turner, MD may have found something that could be an important piece of the Alzheimer s puzzle.

While conducting a study of the effect of resveratrol on Alzheimer s disease, Turner noticed something quite fascinating study participants (who had mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease) had an unexpectedly high prevalence of diabetes and prediabetic conditions 43 percent, as compared to 9 percent of the general adult population in the U.S.

Dr. Turner says, "We know from animal studies that caloric restriction prevents diseases of aging such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. On the flip side of the coin, having diabetes increases one's risk of developing AD. So perhaps by improving glucose tolerance, we will prevent or delay both diabetes and Alzheimer's."

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom notes, Since the study data are observational, there is no way to determine cause and effect, which is duly noted by the authors. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the difference raises some very interesting questions. Is it possible to ward off Alzheimer s with tighter glucose control? I m sure many people will be looking at just this.

Dr. Gilbert Ross says, Given the complete absence of any useful treatment for, or means to prevent Alzheimer s, if this result holds up it could be an astounding discovery. But he cautions, there is a long way to go before this relationship is confirmed, let alone understood.