Can Diabetes Cause Memory Problems?

Can Diabetes Cause Memory Problems?

Many people are aware of some of the devastating consequences of uncontrolled or untreated diabetes, including an increased risk for heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure. But did you know that it also puts you at a higher risk for memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of dementia? Scientific evidence links abnormal insulin levels to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s bad news for the 50% of the U.S. population who have diabetes or prediabetes.

Diabetes is a disorder that occurs when the body’s blood sugar levels are chronically too high. The condition develops when the body either does not produce enough insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels or does not use insulin efficiently. There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: This is characterized by the insufficient production of insulin.
  • Type 2: This occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin efficiently.

Both types of diabetes damage blood vessels, which then cause harm to the body’s organs and brain.

Prediabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, is defined as having blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Diabetes and the Brain

Brain imaging studies using a technology called SPECT shows that diabetes has been linked to decreased blood flow to the brain (which is the #1 predictor of future memory problems) and a smaller hippocampus, a brain region that is involved in the formation of memories.

Even mildly elevated blood sugar levels and prediabetes are significant problems and are associated with brain atrophy, memory problems, and dementia. In people who didn’t have diabetes, the risk of dementia was 18% higher for those with an average blood glucose level of 115 milligrams per deciliter compared to those with average glucose levels of 100 mg/dL. (Normal blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL.) And every incrementally higher glucose level was associated with a higher risk of dementia.

“High normal” blood sugar levels have also been linked with shrinkage in the hippocampus, leading to memory problems. The dementia risk was even worse for people who had diabetes because their blood sugar levels were generally higher. It was 40% higher for people with an average glucose level of 190 mg/dL compared to those with an average glucose level of 160 mg/dL.

10 Ways to Lower Your Risk for Diabetes and Protect Your Memory

The great news is that diabetes and prediabetes are preventable and even reversible in many cases and can help protect your memory. Here are 10 ways to do it.

  1. Ditch all sugar and artificial sweeteners. The refined stuff causes blood sugar levels to spike, and the fake stuff is linked to a higher risk of dementia.
  2. Limit high-glycemic, low-fiber foods (think cookies, cake, and pretzels).
  3. Eat smart carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low-glycemic (think vegetables, fruits, and protein-rich carbs like quinoa).
  4. Skip sodas and sugar-laden energy drinks and opt for still or sparkling water instead.
  5. Drink decaffeinated tea and coffee to boost metabolism and lower the risk of diabetes.
  6. Eat small quantities of high-quality protein and some healthy fat (such as avocado, walnuts, or olive oil) with every meal to stabilize blood sugar levels.
  7. If you’re overweight or obese, forget crash diets. Instead, lose weight gradually as you develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
  8. Make physical exercise—and especially strength training—a part of your daily routine to help balance blood sugar levels. In one study, women who did strength training reduced their incidence of diabetes by 30% compared to women who did no strength training.
  9. Spice up your cooking with cinnamon, which has been shown to lower fasting glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce HbA1c (a test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months)
  10. Supplement your diet with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral, as well as:
    • vitamin D (low levels have been linked to memory problems, including Alzheimer’s disease)
    • omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA (help maintain proper insulin signaling)
    • chromium picolinate (can aid in insulin regulation)
    • alpha-lipoic acid (improves overall blood sugar management)

If you or a loved one has diabetes or is experiencing memory problems, understand that there are many things you can do to prevent or reverse diabetes and memory loss. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive brain-body assessment to help us develop a personalized treatment plan for your needs. Our Memory Rescue program has already helped many patients improve their memory.

Reach out today to speak with a specialist at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.


  1. I have a family member with a high sugar level and I am very worried so any information would be appreciated Thank you to stop it’ getting worse ok

    Comment by Debra letteri — August 28, 2019 @ 4:27 AM

  2. I get your news post I’m a diabetic but I try to keep my A1c in check I’m trying to keep Alzheimer’s and memory loss as far as way as possible I read your article about Diabetes I knew diabetes affected the brain .thank you

    Comment by Joyce Skinner — August 30, 2019 @ 2:16 PM

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