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Is There A Type 3 Diabetes? The Link to Alzheimer's

Published on 
September 3, 2023
August 3, 2023
Virta Health
Virta Health
Virta Health

Why some people are calling Alzheimer’s Type 3 diabetes, and the possible link with dementia.


You’ve read about the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But did you know there’s a health condition some experts call type 3 diabetes? That condition is Alzheimer’s disease.

While type 3 diabetes isn’t an officially recognized form of diabetes, some experts believe there’s a link between insulin dysregulation in the brain and dementia. If a person has type 2 diabetes and then develops Alzheimer’s disease, some researchers recommend calling this progression type 3 diabetes.

Though the potential link to Alzheimer’s disease can be scary if you have diabetes, you don’t have to fear getting older. Taking charge of your health can help you age well and enjoy your golden years, like Virta member Kim. Since joining Virta, she’s made major health and lifestyle changes, losing 100 pounds and keeping it off.

“I am healing my body one day at a time,” says Kim. “I feel like I am in the bonus round of my life. I am walking the trails at our cabin, I am kayaking on the lake, I am down on the floor [playing] with my grandkids.”

How is Alzheimer's related to diabetes?

While experts are still debating the connection between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, poorly controlled blood sugar may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease according to some studies. Because this relationship seems to be strong, some researchers call Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes” or “diabetes of the brain.”

While more research is needed, potential risk factors for type 3 diabetes may include:

  • A diet high in sugar, fat and calories.
  • A diet low in fiber.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Low socioeconomic status.
  • Genetics.
  • Family history.
  • Race and ethnicity.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Impaired lipid (fat) transportation in the body.
  • Having the APOE4 gene.

While there currently isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, certain medications may slow the progression of the disease and help manage symptoms.

Regarding prevention, the jury is still out about how to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. However, a committee of experts recently called the following strategies “encouraging but inconclusive”:

  • Controlling your blood pressure if you have hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Increasing your physical activity.
  • Doing cognitive training (activities to boost your processing speed, memory and reasoning).

Why is Alzheimer’s called type 3 diabetes?

So, why is Alzheimer’s called type 3 diabetes?

A 2008 review of human and animal studies suggested that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of diabetes in the brain. After studying how Alzheimer’s disease impacts the body, researchers found that Alzheimer’s disease involves dysfunctional insulin-like growth factor and insulin signaling (also called insulin resistance).

Another study found that an insulin-degrading enzyme may alter the body’s metabolic pathways and lead from type 2 diabetes to type 3 diabetes (Alzheimer’s disease).

The Takeaway

More research is needed to determine if there is a confirmed link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. However, some experts believe there is a link. Either way, managing your diabetes can improve your overall health. If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and want to live a healthier lifestyle, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.”

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