Known best for its role in the body as a regulator of blood glucose levels and fatty acid storage, insulin also acts in the brain to aid memory and thinking. Thus, when insulin regulation is disrupted, as it is in many common medical conditions including obesity and diabetes, the risk for cognitive impairment rises.
M. J. Friedrich, ‘Insulin Effects Weigh Heavy on the Brain'; Journal of American Medicine, 2006
Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers, working with colleagues in Texas, have found that insulin levels affect the brain’s dopamine systems, which are involved in drug addiction and many neuropsychiatric conditions.
The results are some of the first to link insulin status and dopaminergic brain function and hold several implications for human health and disease.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “Insulin’s Brain Impact Links Drugs And Diabetes”; ScienceDaily, 17 Oct. 2007.
…diabetes causes a narrowing of the arteries and makes the brain more susceptible to gradual damage. People with diabetes are more vulnerable to depression and are more likely to suffer a decline in mental ability as they age.
The Franklin Institute, “High Sugar Intake Over Time”; ‘The Human Brain’.
I’ve known for a while that diabetes can cause depression, but I didn’t know how. It was just one more cause on top of all the others and, because diabetes was something I hadn’t been able to control, all the others needed to be looked after first.
But recently I have taken the steps towards taking control over the diabetes, and I have noticed a difference both in body and in mind.
So, is it possible the insulin has already, less than a month since my first dose, begun healing the parts of my brain the lithium and therapy couldn’t touch?
Lithium is a mood stabilizer, it’s meant to stop the extreme ups and downs thrust on us by the manic depression. It plays a crucial role in our recovery from manic depression by giving us back the ability to reason, to think our way through the days where, beforehand, we could only suffer.
Lithium not only stabilized me, but through that stability it took away my desire to kill myself, and then it took away the fantasies, and then the thoughts of suicide being a reasonable option altogether.
But it doesn’t repair the damage done to our brain by a depression-causing disease like diabetes.
It’s like all this time I’ve been fighting two causes of my debilitating depressions — growing up in a commune, raised by no one, then abandoned by two thirds of my family when I was eight. The other, the manic depression, with which I was diagnosed in 1988. But, I only recently found out, there was a third cause. Something I had left untreated, and allowing it to fight against me, since roughly 1992.
In fact they all went untreated for so long. Previous to 1988 I had seen a therapist and a few child counsellors and a guidance counsellor in high school. But nothing with any substance. The first time I got serious about any of it was in 2003, when I moved back home, suicidal and with a head full of PTSD.
So I’ve been fighting a three-pronged attack, but on only two sides. The lithium for the manic depression, the therapy for the abandonment issues and family stuff. I started taking medications to control the diabetes two years ago, but only because I had started worrying about the future state of my feet and legs.
And now, two years later, I’ve started taking insulin. And a few days later I was so sure I was experiencing what I can only call a “clearing of the clouds” that I checked online to see how insulin, as a treatment for diabetes, effects depressions.
And I found this:
“Symptoms of depression are common in people with diabetes compared with the general population, and major depression is present in approximately 15% of people with diabetes. Depression is associated with poorer self-care behaviour, poorer blood glucose management, health complications, decreased quality of life and psychological well-being, increased family problems, and higher healthcare costs.”
Insulin, basically, tells cells it’s dinner time. The cells then eat the sugar that fuels every part of out body. If the insulin isn’t around to activate the cells, bad things happen. Like legs get chopped off because they can’t heal from minor cuts and bruises.
Or brain cells starve, and it gets harder and harder for the brain to conduct normal business. Like remembering stuff, like focusing, like getting depressed for no real reason.
Since starting insulin my numbers have plummeted from the high teens, to an average of 9.5mmol/L in the morning, and 16mmol/L in the evening. I’ve seen a 23.9, but that was a mistake, I’ve taken a few readings too close after eating, which defeats the exercise entirely.
But I’ve also seen normal numbers, like 4’s and 6’s, that I’ve never seen before.
So, I’m certain the physical effects of the insulin are not due to a “placebo effect”. It’s not wish fulfillment. The numbers don’t lie. But mentally I feel clearer, more capable, I feel as though I’m using parts of my brain that have been on “standby” for years.
But that clarity is not something I can prove.
I am willing to allow the possibility that either I’m projecting — that the weight I’ve been carrying for so long, the one that told me how far below the knee my prosthetic would attach, the one that told me I’d never see my son graduate — is gone, and therefore I feel lighter and less concerned about the future.
Or, that I’m just reacting to a new treatment the same way I reacted to the lithium way back in 1989, with a few weeks of increased activity, and a few better marks in school, then a long crash that left me in the psych-ward.
Whether what’s happening now is real or not, it will be real sooner rather than later. The years, possibly decades, of abuse done to my body, mind and brain, by the diabetes is coming to an end. Not all of the damage is reversible, the nerves in my legs and hands are permanently damaged, but the damage done to my brain can be fixed by the insulin.
And the insulin, suddenly a vital part of my recovery, will finally take away the last source of my previously uncontrolled depressions.