1955 Brain Removers

Shrinking Brains…or Not?

A study to be published April 1 in Neurology suggests that mid-life onset of type 2 diabetes seems to be associated with late-life cognitive deficits due to changes in brain volume. MedPage Today recently reported highlights of this study’s results using this headline: “Diabetes in Midlife Shrinks the Brain.”

The healthcare community is well aware of complications associated with type 2 diabetes, including kidney and heart disease, eye complications, hypertension, and stroke, and have developed strategies to help patients manage their diabetes in order to delay the onset of, or manage, these complications. But, shrinking brains? Here are three reasons to take that sensational headline with a grain of salt:

  1. Exploratory Analysis. The recently published Neurology study was an exploratory analysis involving a population-based cohort, which are part of the Mayo Clinic Study on Aging (MCSA). There is nothing wrong with exploratory studies. They can reveal powerful associations between variables that merit a randomized control trial effort but they are a long way from establishing cause and effect.
  2. Limitations. The Neurology study methodology has limits, though the MedPage Today article didn’t highlight the methodology or its limits. Casual readers might not take the time to think a step or two beyond what they just read. A health news organization like MedPage Today should.
  3. Necessary Follow-up. Typically, prudent researchers and reviewers of research results suggest hypotheses and probable next steps based on study results in order to establish a context for establishing causal relationships, and ultimately clinical interventions, as well as policy implication. You’ll find none of that here.

The Neurology study is loaded with potential paths for follow-up, and that’s the place to focus — not the Incredible Shrinking Brain (yet).

Click here to read the shrinking brain report from MedPage Today and here to read the study itself.

1955 Brain Removers, photograph © James Vaughan / flickr

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