Diabetes & Alzheimer’s — save your brain by going to the gym | Ewan McNay | TEDxAlbany

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Recent discoveries (many in my lab) on the links between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease; translation of that lab work into real-life advice and consequences.

My work examines the role of metabolic processes in regulating brain function, and specifically in regulating memory processing. We use a variety of animal models to examine the behavioral and neurochemical impact of modulations including diet-induced insulin resistance, beta-amyloid, insulin, and recurrent hypoglycemia.

Key discoveries have included: Drainage of glucose from the brain extracellular fluid at times of high cognitive demand, showing that glucose demand can exceed supply and be limiting for cognitive performance. Altered brain glucose transport and diffusion in the aged brain. A key role for insulin in hippocampal cognitive and metabolic processes; conversely, the impact of insulin resistance on hippocampal function. The cognitive, metabolic and neural impact of recurrent hypoglycemia (RH), a key side-effect of insulin therapy that limits achievement of target blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes. Recently, the mechanistic links between RH and subsequent weight gain. Mechanistic links between beta-amyloid and both (i) hippocampal metabolism and (ii) central insulin signalling. A central role for GluT4 in hippocampal cognitive processes.

To date I have roughly 50 peer-reviewed journal papers with ~2500 citations, at an h-index of 26; my work has been funded by the NIH, ADA, JDRF, Alzheimer’s Association and several state and private grants. In addition, my lab has won awards for excellence in student research every year during my time at U.Albany, and I have several teaching and mentoring awards.

From a patient or layperson’s point of view, my work shows that lifestyle elements – such as lack of exercise, caffeine intake, drinking red wine, or overeating – have direct and measureable impact on brain function, diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and risk of death. We can make specific recommendations for change, and show at the molecular level how choices made every day about diet – and even about things like doing a crossword instead of watching TV – affect your brain’s function.