LOS ANGELES, March 25 (Xinhua) -- A new research of the University of Southern California (USC) shows progression of dementia and Alzheimer's signature tangles are much faster in people with untreated diabetes.
USC Dornsife psychologists have found that those patients with untreated diabetes developed signs of Alzheimer's disease 1.6 times faster than people who did not have diabetes, said a release of the university on Monday.
Patients on medication for type 2 diabetes may be keeping Alzheimer's disease away, according to the study published in the journal Diabetes Care.
"Our findings emphasize the importance of catching diabetes or other metabolic diseases in adults as early as you can," said Daniel A. Nation, a psychologist at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
"Among people with diabetes, the difference in their rate of developing the signs of dementia and Alzheimer's is clearly tied somehow to whether or not they are on medication for it," Nation said.
For the study, the scientists were comparing the "tau pathology," the progression of the brain tangles that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
When the tangles combine with sticky beta-amyloid plaques -- a toxic protein -- they disrupt signals between brain cells, impairing memory and other functions, according to the study.
USC researchers analyzed data collected by the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative on 1,289 people aged 55 and older. Among 900 of those patients, 54 had type 2 diabetes but were not being treated, while 67 were receiving treatment.
The researchers compared, among the different diabetic patient categories, the brain and spinal fluid test results that can indicate signs of amyloid plaques and the brain tangles.
"It is possible that the medicines for treating diabetes might make a difference in the progression of brain degeneration," Nation said. "But it's unclear how exactly those medications might slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease, so that is something we need to investigate."
Increasingly, scientists regard Alzheimer's disease as the result of a cascade of multiple problems. The compounding factors range from pollution exposure and genetics to heart disease and metabolic disease.