THURSDAY, Aug. 5 (HealthDay News) -- In a sign that diabetes may
strike at the brain early in life, a small study found that obese
children with type 2 diabetes suffer from thinking difficulties
that do not appear in non-diabetic overweight kids.
The preliminary study doesn't definitively prove that diabetes
is responsible for the differences between the children, and it's
not clear if the diabetic kids suffer much from having more limited
Still, the findings suggest that in diabetics, "very early on,
we can already see potential brain damage developing. We have to
look at the disease in a much more comprehensive way than just
affecting eyes, kidneys, toes and feet," said study co-author Dr.
Antonio Convit, a professor of psychiatry at New York University
Langone Medical Center.
According to Convit, type 2 diabetes -- which is often caused by
excess weight -- now makes up about 40 percent of cases of diabetes
In the past, kids were much more likely to have type 1 diabetes,
also known as juvenile diabetes. But the rise in obesity among kids
has greatly boosted the number of type 2 diabetes cases.
In adults, some diabetics show signs that their abilities to
learn and remember things are more limited than in other people,
Convit said. But it's hard to know whether that's a result of
diabetes or of heart disease that causes "plumbing problems" -- or
clogged blood vessels -- in the brain, he said.
To better understand how diabetes affects the brain early in
life, Convit and his colleagues tested the cognitive skills of 18
obese teenagers with type 2 diabetes and 18 teens who were also
obese but not diabetic.
The researchers found that the obese diabetic teens scored more
poorly than the others on tests of attention, memory and planning,
Convit said. They also scored lower on IQ tests.
While the differences were statistically significant, the study
doesn't combine the findings into one number, Convit said. So it's
impossible to know exactly how much lower the diabetic kids scored
It's possible, he said, that diabetes affects the way that
vessels bring blood to the brain.
The good news is that it appears these effects fade once type 2
diabetes disappears, he said, suggesting how important it is to
help obese kids lose weight.
But trouble looms for those who remain overweight. "As the rate
of obesity continues to raise in children, this will be first
generation who are likely to have a much diminished lifestyle and
diminished quality of life because of these issues that are
ultimately fixable," he said.
Roger A. Dixon, a professor of psychology who studies diabetes
at the University of Alberta in Canada, stressed that the findings
But he added that "it's also a very promising direction of
research" that can help researchers understand if there's a
connection between the effects of diabetes on the brains of older
adults and the effects on children and younger adults.
The study appears online in the journal
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