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Diabetes May Halt Children's Brain Development

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Diabetes can stall brain development in children suffering from type one diabetes, according to a new study from the Nemours Children's Clinic.

Medical researchers performed brain scans and regularly measured the blood glucose levels of children between the ages of four and nine years old. The study found that children with diabetes exhibited slower brain growth than those in their age group with normal glucose levels. Gray and white matter growth in brains were both effected by abnormal blood sugar levels. This was seen in localized areas of the brain, as well as across the organ.  

"Our results show the potential vulnerability of young developing brains to abnormally elevated glucose [blood sugar] levels, even when the diabetes duration has been relatively brief," Nelly Mauras, from the Nemours Children's Clinic in Florida, said.

Despite slower growth rates observed in children with diabetes, no changes in cognitive ability was noted by researchers. However, this early conclusion still needs to be backed up by further research.

Around half of all blood samples from the children were found to have blood glucose concentrations in the high range, despite efforts of parents and physicians to bring levels down.

"As better technology develops, we hope to determine if the differences observed with brain imaging can improve with better glucose control," Mauras stated in a press release.

Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in some individuals with abnormally high glucose levels in their blood. In these patients, the pancreas does not make enough insulin, a hormone essential for the uptake of energy into cells. This results in a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, which can lead to a myriad of health problems, including heart and kidney disease, as well as leading to disease of gums and teeth.

"Type 1 diabetes happens most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age," the National Institutes of Health reports.

Symptoms of the disease include excessive thirst and hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, dry skin, blurry eyesight, and wounds that heal slowly. A blood test is used to diagnose the disease, which is often treated through regular doses of insulin, to regulate glucose utilization.

Although the study shows slower brain growth in children with abnormal glucose levels, the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the conditions.

"Does it affect their brain? The good news here is that there may be some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of," Karen Winer from the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, explained to the press.

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