Diabetes and Parkinson’s: Nationwide Cohort Study Yields Important Insights
The links between diabetes and certain related health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nerve damage are well documented. However, there is also growing evidence that Type 2 diabetes might be related to another serious disorder - Parkinson’s Disease.
The results of a nationwide cohort study published on January 27th of 2023 reveal some fascinating new insight into the possible connection between Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s, including how poorly managed diabetes leading to other health complications can also contribute to the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.
The study is quite medically detailed and complex, so in this post we’ll do our best to highlight the basic findings.
Parkinson’s and Diabetes
There is mounting scientific evidence that patients with Type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s. This is likely because both diseases share similar dysregulated pathways, which suggests there likely exists common underlying causes.
As most of us know, Type 2 diabetes is the result of an increase in insulin resistance, the body’s inability to properly produce and/or process insulin and turn it into the energy the body needs to function properly. This increase in insulin resistance has a detrimental effect on metabolism and can lead to inflammation throughout the body.
According to the published study, a disruption of proper glucose and energy metabolism are also often associated with the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Additionally, the study points out that insulin plays an important role in regulating neuronal survival and growth, dopaminergic transmission, and the maintenance of synapses. So, it’s quite logical that a metabolic syndrome such as Type 2 diabetes that impacts insulin resistance might contribute to the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
Basics of the Study
The hypothesis that led to the study was that, just as with many other diabetes-related risk factors, the risk of Parkinson’s increases as the severity of Type 2 diabetes increases and the progression of the disease ramps up. If this was found to be true it might inform the need for targeted healthcare services and therapies in certain individuals.
The study would examine the regular health check-up records of an astonishing 2,362,072 individuals with Type 2 diabetes who were at least 40 years of age. Records were studied during a period from 2009 - 2012 and then followed up until the end of 2018.
Additionally, individuals were given “diabetes severity” scores between 0 and 6 based on certain treatment and health conditions. These were based upon the following:
– Time living with Type 2 diabetes
– Prescribed insulin to manage blood sugar or no insulin use
– Presence of Chronic Kidney Disease
– Diagnosed with Diabetic Retinopathy
– Diagnosed with Cardiovascular Disease
– Number of oral hypoglycemic agents being taken
Essentially, the study examined individuals with various Type 2 diabetes conditions, from those who manage blood sugar without medication and did not experience complications to those who required prescribed medications and did experience diabetes-related complications.
Findings of the Study
The study revealed some important correlations between Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, most notably confirming that as Type 2 diabetes and its impact on a person’s health progress, so does the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
People in the study with a diabetes severity score of 4 or higher had more than double the risk for Parkinson’s compared to those with a severity score of zero. Those with a score of 6 saw nearly a three-fold increase in risk compared to those with a zero score.
In fact, each of the diabetes severity score parameters showed a direct association with an intensity in the risk of Parkinson’s. For example, subjects who used insulin to control blood sugar saw an increase compared to those who manage their Type 2 diabetes without the need for insulin treatments by syringe, pen or a pump.
Individuals prescribed three or more oral hypoglycemic agents (OHA) and living with diabetes for five years or more also showed a marked increase in the risk for Parkinson’s.
Perhaps, most important for those living with Type 2 diabetes, was the correlation found between experiencing diabetes-related health complications – kidney disease, diabetic retinopathy, and cardiovascular disease – and the significant increase in the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.
As people with diabetes, we know that the risk of developing heart, kidney and eye complications is directly related to how well we control blood sugar and manage our disease. Therefore, it would only make sense that by properly managing blood sugar to avoid the diabetes-related complications we already know about, we’re likely also lowering our risk for developing Parkinson’s.
What Can You Do?
The evidence points to the fact that being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease. There’s no way of eliminating this risk entirely. However, proper blood sugar management is proven beneficial in lowering the risk of many diabetes-related complications, Parkinson’s is surely one to add to this list.
– Stick to your doctor-prescribed testing and treatment plan
– Follow a diabetes-healthy diet featuring lean proteins and fresh vegetables
– Get in the ADA’s recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week
These are the ways you achieve and maintain healthy blood sugar levels and that is the most important aspect of living with Type 2 diabetes. If you’re having problems with frequent highs or lows, talk to your doctor ASAP. There’s a good chance a few simple modifications can help put you back on track. Remember, never make alterations or additions to your diabetes management plan without first consulting your diabetes physician and care team.
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