Losing weight could help people with type 2 diabetes reduce damage to the brain that can be caused by the condition, researchers suggest.
Scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, followed 319 participants with type 2 diabetes who had enrolled in the Action for Health in Diabetes trial, which took place within 2001 and 2012.
The participants were aged between 45-76 years and were all overweight or obese. They were then randomly assigned to one of two groups.
164 patients received 10 years of lifestyle interventio, which included regular individual and group counselling, guidance on following a calorie-restricted diet and set goals to achieve at least 175 minutes of weekly moderate activity.
The other 155 patients served as a control group. They received a standard diabetes education program offering social support and guidance on diet and exercise.
10 years later, the participants underwent standardised structural brain magnetic resonance imaging and tests of cognitive function.
The study team found that the intensive counselling group lost more weight and achieved greater cardiorespiratory fitness compared to the control group. The control group were also found to have smaller volumes of gray matter and more white matter disease at the end of the study – signs that are linked to cognitive decline.
Lead author Mark Espeland said: “If individuals with diabetes change their behaviour in mid-life to lose weight and increase physical activity, this can lead to long-term benefits in brain health later in life.”
The intervention group experienced more radical lifestyle changes, and despite having a similar level of cognitive function to the control group at the end of the study, they performed better on tests of attention and processing speed.
The researchers concluded: “Long-term weight loss intervention may reduce the adverse impact of diabetes on brain structure. Determining whether this eventually delays cognitive decline and impairment requires further research.”
The study was published in Diabetes Care.

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