For children with type 1 diabetes, balance is key. Too little blood sugar can lead to seizures or coma. But new research shows that too much can lead to slower growth in some areas of the brain.
For the study, which is published in the journal Diabetes, researchers tracked brain structure and cognitive function in 144 young children with type 1 diabetes and a comparison group of 72 children without diabetes over 18 months.
By manipulating the ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, it's possible to "make you more cautious, less error-prone, more adaptable to new or changing situations—which is pretty extraordinary," says Robert Reinhart.
MRI scans showed that the brains of both groups of kids were growing, but growth was slower in several areas of the brain in the children with type 1 diabetes.
Growth was slowest in children with the highest blood sugar levels and in children whose levels showed the most fluctuation.
“This study shows we need to strike a balance between high blood sugar levels and low sugar levels, and avoid those extremes,” says Eva Tsalikian, a paediatric endocrinologist at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. “The better we control those levels, the less likely that a child’s brain development will be affected.”
“New technology, such as continuous blood sugar monitors, may help prevent large swings in blood sugar levels,” says Michael Tansey, who is also a paediatric endocrinologist.
The researchers also tested the children’s brain function with standard tests of IQ, learning and memory, and mood and behavior, but they found no significant differences between the two groups.
The children will be followed for another five years to see if they develop differences in brain structure and function.
The National Institutes of Health funded the study.
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