Brain damage may be linked to Type 2 diabetes, based on a new study. The disease may lead to rapid loss of brain matter in senior citizens.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease in the United States, affecting approximately 15 million people. Nearly 80 million people are believed to be prone to the disease. Type 2 diabetes is often found in older people, especially those who are obese, eat poorly or lead a sedentary lifestyle. Diagnosis, treatment and research on the disease costs $15 billion a year nationwide.

Doctor R. Nick Bryan of the University of Pennsylvania led a study of 614 subjects who had experienced diabetes for ten years or more. Brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The average age of the subjects was 62.

Subjects who had experienced diabetes for the longest periods of time exhibited the most severe brain damage.

"It'd been thought that most, if not all, of the effect of diabetes on the brain was due to vascular disease that diabetics get and, therefore, stroke. We found that in addition to that, there's sort of diffuse loss of brain tissue, atrophy... we think may [be] a direct effect of the diabetes on the brain." Bryan told Fox News.

Glucose levels affected by diabetes can greatly reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. Without enough of the gas, neurons can atrophy and die. This suggests brains can be damaged in two ways by diabetes - both by slow oxygen loss and stroke. On average, people lose between one-tenth and one-eighth of a cubic inch of brain matter each year. People suffering from diabetes were found to lose brain tissue at twice that rate.

Medical researchers previously showed seniors with the disease are at a higher-than-normal risk for dementia, including Alzheimer's. Bryan and his team may have found the cause of this increased risk.

Seniors with the disorder may also perform at a lower average cognitive level than those free of diabetes. The disease may age the brains of sufferers 20 percent faster than normal, as per Bryan. Diabetes can also lead to circulatory problems, some of which can be extremely harmful or fatal.

Bryan is continuing his studies of the group by dividing them into two groups. While half the subjects will undergo a radical change to lower blood sugar levels, the other half will continue normal treatments, serving as a control group.

The study into ties between brain degeneration and type 2 diabetes was detailed in the journal Radiology, published by the Radiological Society of North America.

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