Diabetes study testing nutritional approach to delay cognitive decline

08 January 2015

Researchers in the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at the University of Newcastle are seeking people with type 2 diabetes to take a new nutritional supplement designed to stimulate blood flow in the brain and reduce the threat of mental impairment.

"We know that diabetics are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease but in recent times it's become apparent that they also tend to have accelerated, age-related cognitive decline," study leader Professor Peter Howe, from HMRI's Cardiovascular Research Program, said.

"In other words, their ability to perform certain mental tasks deteriorates more rapidly than it might in otherwise healthy people, which can also predispose them to harmful situations like falls where their reaction time is slower.

"We've come to realise that cardiovascular diseases and declining mental health are linked – our high rates of obesity and high blood pressure, for example, are both associated with impairments in mood and cognitive performance."

The team is currently leading world-wide research in demonstrating the circulation benefits from regular consumption of resveratrol, a naturally occurring bioactive nutrient found in red wine, grapes and chocolate and also extracted from Japanese knotweed.

They are now focusing on the effects of resveratrol on circulation in the brain, targeting people with type 2 diabetes whose circulatory function is potentially impaired through high blood sugar levels damaging endothelial cells within blood vessels.

"We've been evaluating dietary strategies to improve endothelial function, using nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, flavanols in cocoa and isoflavones in soy, but this is the first time that anyone has tested resveratrol on both cognition and circulation in the brain in diabetes," Professor Howe added.

"Preventative strategies are vitally important for an ageing population and we hope to demonstrate that we can improve blood vessel function and also improve cognitive performance."

According to PhD student Rhen Nealon, the study is also aiming to find the optimal dose of resveratrol to improve cerebral blood flow.

"Study participants take four different doses throughout the study, one of which is a placebo, and at the same time they perform computerised and verbal cognitive tests while wearing a non-invasive ultrasound headpiece that measures blood flow in real time," Mr Nealon said.

The study is recruiting men or post-menopausal women aged between 40-80 years who have type 2 diabetes but don't require insulin therapy. They can phone 4921 8616 or email rhenan.nealon@uon.edu.au for further information.

Further information

Mr Rhenan Nealon
T: (02) 4921 8616
E: Rhenan.nealon@uon.edu.au

Project supervisors

Prof. Peter Howe (02) 4921 7309
Prof. Manohar Garg (02) 4921 5647
Dr. Rachel Wong (02) 4921 6408