Badly controlled diabetes is known to affect the brain causing memory and learning problems and even increased incidence of dementia, although how this occurs is not clear. Now a study in mice with type 2 diabetes has discovered how diabetes affects a brain area called hippocampus. This area causes memory loss. The study also describes how caffeine can prevent this. Researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal discovered that neurodegeneration that caused by diabetes is the same that occurs at the first stages of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Type 2 diabetes is a full blown public health disaster. 285 million people affected worldwide– 6.4% of the world population. This does not include pre-diabetic individuals.
Beside a genetics predisposition, diabetes is also triggered by obesity, sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits, all of which are increasingly widespread. Diabetes is a condition when body becomes increasingly resistant to insulin. This results in toxic high levels of sugar in the blood that damage nerves and blood vessels and, with time, cause severe complications In the study researchers take advantage of a new mouse model of diabetes type 2, which, like humans, develops the disease in adults as result of a high-fat diet.
The disease effect on the brain, more specifically, on memory. Researchers have also investigated a possible protective effect by caffeine as this psychostimulant has been suggested to prevent memory loss in a series of neurodegenerative diseases. In this study Portuguese researchers compared four groups of mice – diabetic or normal animals without or with caffeine in their water. The aim was to find that long-term consumption of caffeine not only diminished the weight gain and the high levels of blood sugar typical of diabetes, but also prevented the mice’s memory loss. Results confirmed that caffeine could, in fact, protect against diabetes as well as prevent memory impairment, probably by interfering with the neurodegeneration caused by toxic sugar levels.
To investigate this, next, the researchers looked at a brain region linked to memory and learning called hippocampus. And in fact, diabetic mice had abnormalities in this area showing synaptic degeneration this phenomenon is known to affect memory and caffeine consumption prevented the abnormalities. But to be able to develop drugs based on caffeine’s protective effect, it was necessary to understand its molecular mechanisms. In the next researches, the researchers are looking for those brain molecules, known to respond to caffeine.