Body Mind

Is Type 3 Diabetes Real?

Written by Anthony Emecheta

Insulin is an important hormone in the body. Produced by the pancreas, it plays a key role in the regulation of blood sugar levels by allowing blood sugar to enter the cells where they are used for energy production. Anything that impacts the production of insulin can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and subsequently diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes happens when the immune system of the body destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t respond to insulin as it should. The so-called “type 3 diabetes” (Alzheimer’s disease) occurs when the neurons in the brain or insulin-like growth factors (IGF) fail to respond to insulin.

Blacks are usually at a higher risk of type 3 diabetes because of several factors. According to the CDC 2022 National Diabetes Surveillance report, Black adults aged 18 and above have a higher chance (12.7%) of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to their White counterparts (7.0%).

A recent study suggests the degradation of insulin by enzymes can shift type 2 diabetes to type 3 diabetes by changing metabolic pathways. But why does type 3 diabetes disproportionately affect the Black community?

What is Type 3 Diabetes/Alzheimer’s?

Studies have shown that insulin is crucial to learning and memory. Therefore, some researchers believe insulin deficiency or insulin resistance that occurs in the brain is a critical factor in Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers justify their classification of Alzheimer’s as “type 3 diabetes” based on the perceived relationship with insulin. This classification remains highly controversial and not accepted by the American Diabetes Association. However, there is a growing number of people who use the term “type 3 diabetes” to describe this type of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease has been fingered as the leading cause of adult-onset dementia and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. More studies are needed to identify the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Regardless of whether type 3 diabetes is a thing or not, the truth remains that our community has a higher rate of both Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes compared to our White counterparts.

The link between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Although there are studies backing the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, the majority is believed to be an oversimplification or mere assumptions. For example, when type 2 diabetes is not detected and treated on time, it can lead to the damage of blood vessels, including those in the brain. Therefore, those suffering from type 2 diabetes have a high chance (45 to 90%) of experiencing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia—if undiagnosed.

High blood sugar levels can also lead to inflammation which can lead to brain cell damage. Diabetes can also cause chemical imbalances in the brain which contributes to Alzheimer’s. So, diabetes remains a risk factor for vascular dementia.

That’s about all the science-backed data links Alzheimer’s and diabetes. However, there are cases of Alzheimer’s that have no link to insulin. More studies are required to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and its relationship with diabetes.

How type 3 diabetes affects the Black Community

Some of the key risk factors of type 2 diabetes are obesity and overweight, hypertension, high cholesterol, and smoking cigarettes. In a study involving over 4,200 participants, factors like fasting glucose levels, body mass index, waist measurement, and lung function were also identified as risk factors for type 3 diabetes.

Black women are known to have the highest rates of obesity with as high as 4 in 5 Black women being obese or overweight. The root cause of obesity in Black communities is often poorer financial status which leads to poor diet and lifestyle.

A 2019 data by the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report shows that out of every 100,000 hospital admissions due to diabetes, 231.5 of Blacks usually have long-term complications compared to 94.3 of Whites. These complications will usually arise when diabetes is not properly managed, including the potential of developing the so-called type 3 diabetes.

How Black adults can lower their risk of type 3 diabetes

A 2021 study found that the Black race has an elevated level of soluble RAGE compared to Whites.  In simple words, the Black race is genetically more prone to type 2 and type 3 diabetes.

There is no cure for type 3 diabetes, although doctors may prescribe drugs to slow its progression. For example, Aducanumab may be used to reduce cognitive and functional decline. Therefore, starting early to lower your risk factors can go a long way in preventing them from ever occurring.

Increasing your physical activity and lowering your abdominal fat can help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes which can cause nerve damage leading to Alzheimer’s. Eating food rich in fiber and protein, and low in saturated fat can also contribute to lowering your risk of diabetes.

Elevate Black Health advocates constantly checking your blood sugar levels and monitoring your cholesterol levels. Thankfully, there are handy glucose monitor kits that you can use at home to frequently check your blood sugar levels. Consult your healthcare provider once you detect any anomaly in your blood glucose levels. Early detection can help improve the long-term health outcomes of terminal diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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