Young People Who Developed Diabetes in Youth Show Signs of Alzheimer's Biomarkers, New Study Shows

Young People Who Developed Diabetes in Youth Show Signs of Alzheimer's Biomarkers, New Study Shows

Diabetes is a risk factor for dementia. This may be due to diabetes’ impact on heart health, low blood sugar’s ability to damage the hippocampus, or insulin playing a role in the formation of Alzheimer’s pathology. Whatever the reason, diabetes patients have been found to be at higher risk of developing dementia. What about people diagnosed in childhood? A new study investigated.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus recently compared the levels of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative biomarkers in people with youth-onset type 1 and type 2 diabetes and their diabetes-free peers. Blood tests looked for Alzheimer’s-related factors like tau and amyloid beta proteins. The goal was to see whether younger people with diabetes also showed signs of an increased risk of developing dementia.

According to the findings, published in the journal Endocrines, the young people with diabetes showed elevated levels of phosphorylated tau even as teens. The researchers say this is concerning, as rates of obesity continue to rise in children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 American children is obese.

Dr. Allison Shapiro, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says, “Preliminary evidence shows that preclinical AD neuropathology is present in young people with youth-onset diabetes. These preliminary data suggest the potential for an early-onset AD risk trajectory in people diagnosed with diabetes in childhood or adolescence.”

The study involved 25 young people with youth-onset type 1 diabetes, 25 with youth-onset type 2 diabetes, and 25 members of a control group. They all had blood tests done, while a smaller number also underwent brain scans. The researchers looked into this younger cohort with diabetes because they say dementia research into this group is underexplored, typically focusing on adults in middle age or older.

Despite finding that the diabetes groups had lower blood levels of amyloid beta as teens, all measures went up as they transitioned into adulthood, and phosphorylated tau was already higher when they were younger.

This is concerning to the more than 300,000 children and teens with the disease. It also suggests there may be more cases of Alzheimer’s later, as trends move toward more children with obesity, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Shapiro says, “We are about to enter into a different world of health care because of the obesity epidemic in young people. Young people are catching up with adults. We are now seeing more aging-related diseases in young people.

“We are not saying these people have AD or have cognitive impairment. We are saying that this trajectory is concerning.”

Going forward, the team hopes to further study this group as they age. This may shine light on their dementia risk, where it comes from, and what doctors can do for people with youth-onset diabetes. For now, Dr. Shapiro says cognitive testing may be a good idea.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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