When it comes to diabetes, the news is usually not good. Consider the statistics. In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million people have Type 2 diabetes — the chronic disease's most common form. Even more alarming is that 8.1 million of them don't even know they have it. Another 86 million people have prediabetes — or abnormally high blood sugar levels that, if not treated, will very likely result in developing diabetes.
It’s pretty troubling, especially considering that it is a preventable disease. Last week, however, news for people with Type 2 diabetes was actually good.
Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat, explains the CDC, is turned into glucose — or sugar — for our bodies to use for energy. Making sure this happens is the pancreas. It makes a hormone called insulin that helps transport glucose into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should, says the CDC. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.
To make matters worse, diabetes can cause serious health problems that include heart disease, blindness and kidney failure, and can lead to lower-extremity amputations. It's no wonder it's the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Type 2 diabetes is treated by a combination of diet and oral medication, and sometimes insulin injections as well.
A team from Newcastle University has shown that Type 2 diabetes is caused by fat accumulating in the pancreas. Okay, so what? Well, they found that when people with Type 2 diabetes lose 1 gram of that fat in the pancreas, it reverses the long-term condition.
The research led by Professor Roy Taylor is being published online late last week in Diabetes Care and he will be presenting the findings at the World Diabetes Conference in Vancouver.
In a trial, 18 people with Type 2 diabetes and 9 people who did not have diabetes were measured for weight, fat levels in the pancreas and insulin response before and after bariatric surgery. Patients with Type 2 diabetes had been diagnosed for an average of 6.9 years, and all for no more than 15 years. The group with Type 2 diabetes was found to have increased levels of fat in the pancreas.
The participants in the study had all been selected to have gastric bypass surgery for obesity and were measured before the operation then again eight weeks later. After the operation, those with Type 2 diabetes were immediately taken off their medication.
Both groups lost the same amount of weight, around 13% of their initial body weight. Critically, the pool of fat in the pancreas did not change in the non-diabetics but decreased to a normal level in those with Type 2 diabetes.
Professor Taylor of Newcastle University, who also works within the Newcastle Hospitals as part of the Newcastle Academic Health Partners, explains: "At present the only way we have to achieve this is by calorie restriction — whether by diet or an operation."
Looks like that New Year's resolution to lose some weight just got even more worthwhile for people with Type 2 diabetes. Consider this: even if the condition is not reversed, dropping a few pounds by eating a healthy and balanced diet and staying active will help people with diabetes keep those additional and serious health problems, such as heart disease, at bay.
Consider, too, that if one of your medications is Metformin, you may possibly be looking at an extended lifespan. That's right: according to a team of medical researchers, the drug can extend a person’s life to 120 years and stave off aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The research team is starting tests on human subjects in the next year, so it's too soon to tell — but for people who live with the disease, this news means there is hope and — even more important — motivation to eat better and move more.