A new study suggests it may be possible to detect the warning signs of diabetes before the disorder actually develops.
The glucose tolerance test is the standard method for detecting diabetes. But our new study suggests a different test can identify the disease earlier than the glucose tolerance test.
Diabetes kills 3.4 million people worldwide each year, and the figure is expected to continue rising. It kills people through secondary diseases such as heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. And the longer diabetes remains untreated, the greater the risk of developing these diseases, so early detection is vital.
Diabetes is detected when the body can no longer regulate blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is controlled by insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. This hormone lowers blood glucose by making the body’s cells take it up, where it is stored or used for energy.
In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin before diabetes develops. This made us wonder whether we could detect earlier stages of the disease, when the body is insulin resistant but before the pancreas has worn out and blood glucose levels have increased. We focused on investigating how the body becomes unresponsive to insulin. To do so, we considered fat, not glucose.
Obesity is now established as the leading cause of type 2 diabetes. One of the main ways obesity is thought to cause diabetes is by body fat – adipose tissue – not working properly.
Healthy adipose tissue takes up the fat we consume and stores it until needed for fuel, such as at night when we sleep. When obese people eat a meal, their adipose tissue does not take up the fat. Instead, the fat is directed into other organs, such as the liver and muscle, where it causes insulin resistance.