Blood Sugar Extremes Can Affect Young Brains

| Nov 7, 2011

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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Categories: Brain Development, Developing Brains, Diabetes, Diabetes, High Blood Sugar, Low Blood Sugar, Type 1 Diabetes, Type 1 Issues, Washington University School of Medicine, White Matter. Grey Matter, Young People With Diabetes

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Posted by Anonymous on 9 November 2011

I have 2 boys with diabetes, both of whom were diagnosed at the age of 2. They are now 25 and 21. Both are intelligent, functioning, normal adults. If I had read this article 15 years ago, it would have frightened me, not only because of what it says, but because of what it leaves out. Really, if you are going to report the results of studies, please be more thorough. To parents out there: do your best, your kids will be fine.

Posted by chanson3633 on 10 November 2011

I agree with the anonymous post above. The study found no difference in the brain development of the Type 1 kids when compared with their non- Type 1 siblings. That's the important finding. When they compared brain development of the more hyperglycemic group with the brain development of the more hypoglycemic group, they noted some differences. But there was no information regarding the number of participants and whether there were other differences between the hyper- and hypo- groups.

Posted by cde on 11 November 2011

My interpretation of the results of this latest study is simple: normoglycemia must continue to be the goal of treatment of diabetic hyperglycemia and/or hypoglycemia. Since both diabetic dysglycemias affect the developing brain, and normoglycemia very likely has only positive effects on brain growth, staying as much as possible in the normal range (71 - 99 mg/dL) can only be a good idea and goal.

Another fairly recent study showed that the rebound hyperglycemia so frequent when treating hypoglycemia with food (instead of glucose tablets) also has a negative effect on brain functioning (size of the brain was not studied in this case). This study gives further support to the idea that what is "normal" (that is, normoglycemia) is undoubtedly best as those of us with DM1 and the parents of those with DM1 aim to maintain healthy functioning all around. It has always been clear that what separates us from those without DM1 is the recurrent and in some cases chronic abnormality of BG levels. This divergence alone can account for 99% of the problems of medium- and long-term development in our bodies and minds (brains).

Dr. Stan De Loach
Certified Diabetes Educator
DM1 for 43 years
México, Distrito Federal

Posted by Anonymous on 18 November 2011

I also have raised two boys with diabetes, and although low blood sugars are scary, with education and a lot of initial hard work---things have gone very well. My oldest son is a med student at Duke!! One great tip is to always be prepared with snacks and insulin handy--There are so many great new options like insulin pens and GlucoSticks which are a great fast dissolve glucose. Not to mention all the wonderful support from sites like this one!!!

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