Blood Sugar Control Could Boost Brain Growth

Type 1 diabetes in children may slow developing brains if not controlled in the long term

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Too much sugar in the blood isn't so sweet for kids with type 1 diabetes — it could even slow their brain development. Fortunately, managing blood sugar levels may keep these kids' brains developing normally.

A new study found that chronic high blood sugar may be harmful to the developing brains of young children.

Nelly Mauras, MD, head of Pediatric Endocrinology at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, led this study. The research was conducted by five clinical pediatric diabetes centers that make up the Diabetes Research in Children Network (DirecNet).

“We believe the results show the potential vulnerability of the young developing brain to abnormally elevated glucose levels,” Dr. Mauras said in a press release.

Study author Karen Winer, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) said that “The good news here is that there are some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of."

Those solutions include improved technology that allows for faster, more accurate blood sugar readings.

Typically, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when people are children and young adults, according to the American Diabetes Association. That’s why it's sometimes known as juvenile diabetes.

With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. If steps are not taken to control diabetes, sugar levels in the bloodstream climb. This damages nerves and blood vessels and ultimately impairs major organs, such as the kidneys and heart. The brain may also be affected.

Dr. Mauras and colleagues tracked 144 children, ages 4 to 9, for 18 months. The children had been living with type 1 diabetes for an average of 2.5 years.

These researchers analyzed brain structure and function of these children through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They compared their brain development with 72 children who did not have diabetes.

Dr. Mauras and team found slower brain growth overall among the children with type 1 diabetes.

The children were also given extensive neurocognitive tests, which measured such factors as learning and memory, processing speed and IQ. Dr. Mauras and team did not find significant differences in mental ability between the children with type 1 diabetes and those who were healthy.

These researchers said pediatricians often let young children with type 1 diabetes maintain above-normal blood sugar levels.

Dr. Winer explained that many believe it is safer to allow blood sugar to run high because consistently low blood sugar levels could put a child at risk of having a seizure.

Blood sugar measures throughout this research revealed that children with diabetes had sharp swings from too high to too low. These dramatic changes raised concern about how they might affect the brain.

Dr. Mauras and colleagues concluded that better blood sugar control is needed in this vulnerable age group.

“The good news here is that there are some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of,” Dr. Winer said.

Dr. Winer said doctors can now use the latest technology to monitor blood sugar levels quickly, precisely and continuously. That allows for rapid assessment and fast application of necessary treatment.

As many as 3 million people in the US have type 1 diabetes, and an estimated 15 percent are children, reports the American Diabetes Association.

This study was published online Dec. 17 in the journal Diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. Authors reported ties to companies like Novo Nordisk, Daiichi Sankyo, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Medtronic and Animas.

Review Date: 
December 18, 2014
Last Updated:
December 20, 2014