Ask the Dietitians

Does Insulin Resistance Lead to Cognitive Decline?

Diabetes has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia—here's what you can do to best protect yourself.

Q: Does insulin resistance lead to cognitive decline? How do I prevent insulin resistance?

A: Insulin resistance is the body’s failure to respond normally to insulin and is a hallmark of prediabetes and diabetes. The primary cause is excess weight (body fat) around the waist. Diabetes has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia, and excess insulin has been linked to the accumulation of beta-amyloid, which is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Studies published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and JAMA Neurology showed that having a reduced sensitivity to insulin may lead to a more rapid decline in memory and other mental skills in late middle age to old age, even in people who do not have diabetes. When caught early, insulin resistance is completely preventable and reversible through diet and lifestyle changes, which include regular exercise, adequate sleep and stress-reduction techniques. Weight loss can help the body respond better to insulin. A diet that is lower in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars), higher in fiber and balanced with healthy protein and fat can help stabilize blood sugar levels and normalize insulin release.