New Study Validates Link Between Type 2 Diabetes and Parkinson’s

People with diabetes are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD). The possible link between type 2 diabetes (T2D) and Parkinson’s has been the subject of medical conversation and scientific research for years. Newly reported findings from University of London and University of Oxford confirm that people with type 2 diabetes are 32% more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those without diabetes.1

In a report presented to the American Academy of Neurology, Dr. Tom Warner of University College London described how researchers retrospectively reviewed hospital admissions statistics of more than 8 million people in England over a 12-year period. Researchers estimated the risk for developing PD based on longitudinal data for those with T2D.2 They looked at 2 million people admitted to the hospital for T2D and compared them to a control group of over 6 million people admitted other medical or surgical reasons. Anyone with a PD diagnosis at first admission was excluded from the results, as were those with parkinsonism and other conditions that mimic PD. Following these cases over time through subsequent hospital admissions, utilizing some basic controls for age, gender, and region of residence, the authors calculated the 32% risk increase.1,3

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic neurodegenerative motor disorder that is characterized by difficulty with movement. It is caused by loss of neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger transmitting signals that produce smooth, purposeful movement. The loss of dopamine due to the damage and death of the neurons causes impaired movement.

What is type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that interferes with the body’s ability to process the food we eat and convert it into energy. In T2D, the most common form of diabetes, the body can’t effectively use the insulin produced by the pancreas; this is called insulin resistance. Diabetes can be treated with diet, exercise and medication to moderate symptoms and many maintain a normal life.

The link between PD & T2D

Cells rely on glucose for energy, and insulin aids in converting glucose into energy. In both PD and diabetes, changes in the brain may result in interference with signaling which affects normal function. Whether there is a genetic predisposition or other linking factors, prior studies have reported more than 400 genes linked to both conditions.1

The risk

Most people with T2D will never develop Parkinson’s disease. However, in the British study people with T2D were 32% more likely to receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s at some point in the future than people without diabetes. It appears that the risk is even higher for younger people, those between 25-44, as well as for those who suffer complications from diabetes. Scientists found that this younger age group is 400% more likely to develop Parkinson’s. There was also a 49% increase in those with medical complications from diabetes, whereas in the age 75+ population, the likelihood of going on to develop PD was only 18%.3

Future research may influence treatment

Association between the two conditions has been the focus of numerous studies. A deeper understanding of the link between diabetes and Parkinson’s leads researchers to surmise that the two conditions may respond to common therapies, according to Dr. Alastair Noyce from Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine.1 The goal would be to better understand the relationship between the two conditions including the impact of genetics, the pathophysiology, and the effect of diabetes on the brain.

As this link is more fully understood it may be possible to identify treatments that might slow progression of, and better treat, both conditions. According to Dr. Tom Warner of University College London, if there is a way to restore the brain’s ability to process insulin, there could potentially be a protective effect on the brain.4 Other studies, including one from UCLA, have reported that diabetes treatments have demonstrated potential in relieving PD symptoms and possibly modifying the course of the disease.5 Future research on insulin signaling, cellular damage, genetic predisposition, and environmental factors will likely be part of the next chapter of treating both diabetes and Parkinson’s.

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