Type 1 diabetics are more likely to miss low blood sugar cues, MRI scans show

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Photo courtesy of Yale University.

According to recent findings published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Yale University researchers have found that people with type 1 diabetes miss low blood sugar cues from the body compared with healthy adults because of differences in neurological reactions and stimulation.  

“There is a progressive loss of coordinated brain response to low blood sugar as you go from healthy adult to aware and unaware,” said lead author of the study Janice Jin Hwang, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, in a Yale press release. “The first areas in the brain to go are associated with regulating feeding behavior.” 

To investigate why individuals with type 1 diabetes aren't able to recognize drops in blood sugar, researchers conducted MRI scans of 42 participants that included type 1 diabetics and healthy individuals who were given insulin to induce low blood sugar.  

The MRI images showed low blood sugar alerted four regions of the brain linked to reward, motivation and decision making, according to study results. On the contrary, half of the type 1 diabetics participating in the study showed activity in regions of the brain solely associated with attention, while the rest failed to show any brain changes and activity at all.  

"The difference in the two groups of diabetics was that some still had what’s called 'hypoglycemia awareness,' the ability to sense the physical symptoms of low blood sugar, and the others did not," according to the study.  

Ultimately, researchers noted that this study can also help in restoring low blood sugar awareness in patients who have lost the ability and give further push to producing more advanced technologies that monitor blood sugar.