Antioxidants may alleviate diabetic brain fog, study finds

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In a recent study presented at the Society for Endocrinology conference, researchers from Glasgow, Scotland used a mouse model to investigate whether antioxidants can mitigate brain fog associated with diabetes.

Blood sugar levels rise normally rise after eating. In response, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream to signal cells to use the sugar as energy, or to store it in the form of fat. The pancreas will halt insulin production when blood glucose levels are sufficiently lowered.

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body becomes unable to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels in the blood damage the blood vessels, organs, and nerves. Managing diabetes involves making lifestyle changes, carefully monitoring blood glucose levels, and taking daily medications to lower blood sugar.

Yet, insulin therapy often results in bouts of low blood sugar, referred to as hypoglycaemia. Recurring or prolonged hypoglycaemia has been associated with a decline in cognitive function. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes, who must take insulin, can experience long-term difficulty learning and performing tasks that involve memory.

Building upon previous research on recurring episodes of low blood sugar which have shown elevated levels of free radicals in the brain, a new study led by Dr. Alison McNeilly investigated whether antioxidants to remove free radicals could improve cognitive ability in memory tasks.

Along with her colleagues at the University of Dundee in Scotland, Dr. McNeilly used insulin implants to induce type 1 diabetes in 8 male mice. The mice were then divided into three groups:

  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes and recurring hypoglycaemia
  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes and recurring hypoglycaemia that were given the antioxidant sulforaphane
  • 3 mice with type 1 diabetes that were the control group

The researchers found that the three mice who were given sulforaphane performed better on tasks involving novel object recognition. In addition, levels of free radicals in the brain were lower. Further research on the activation of antioxidant pathways is required, however, this research indicate that boosting the body’s antioxidative system may improve brain health for diabetic patients who experience recurring episodes of hypoglycaemia.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD

Reference: McNeilly, A. et al. (2018) Nrf2 mediated protection against hypoglycaemia induced cognitive deficits in type 1 diabetes. Presented at Society for Endocrinology 2018, Glasgow, UK. Endocrine Abstracts 59 P108. DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.59.P108

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