According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is a “global epidemic” that must be tackled if we are to prevent its ill effects. In the United States, nearly 40% of adults and 18.5% of children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. That’s why finding effective ways to treat the condition is paramount. But now scientists say they are on the verge of creating a pill that could make obesity a thing of the past - without the need for diet and exercise. Sounds too good to be true, right? Nevertheless, the team at Flinders University in South Australia say that they key to curbing obesity could lie in a single gene known as RCAN1. The team found that when RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were then fed a high fat diet, they did not gain weight. In fact, they could eat as much food as they wanted over a prolonged period of time, the researchers say. Damien Keating, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Flinders, and leader of the research team, said blocking RCAN1 allows the body to transform unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Stunning pictures of the mice used for the trial highlight the difference when RCAN1 was blocked and when it wasn’t. The results of the research are published in the journal EMBO Reports.
The physical health problems associated with diabetes are well understood and publicised. For example, diabetics have an increased risk of developing cancer, kidney disorders and cardiovascular disease. But what about the mental impact of living with diabetes? It’s not something that gets a lot of attention, but the findings of a new study could see it thrust under the spotlight. That’s because the study by researchers from Finland found a worrying connection between diabetes and the risk of someone dying by suicide or alcoholism. According to the study, diabetics are more than 10 times more likely to die as a result of alcoholism – predominantly cirrhosis of the liver – and 110% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. The highest risk was seen among diabetes patients who rely on regular insulin injections to avoid serious health complications. Professor Leo Niskanen, of the University of Helsinki, who led the study, said diabetes patients who have to monitor their glucose levels and administer insulin frequently suffer tremendous mental strain. “This strain combined with the anxiety of developing serious complications like heart or kidney disease may also take their toll on psychological well-being,” he said. Is it time we started talking about the mental health implications of living with diabetes? [Related reading: Type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years in advance, researchers say]
Some of the warning signs often associated with type-2 diabetes can be detected years before the disease is actually diagnosed, researchers say. A study found factors such as insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels were seen in people years prior to them developing pre-diabetes – a typical pre-cursor to the type-2 form of the disease. The authors of the Japanese study say their findings suggest that diabetes treatment should begin much earlier in life. For the study, conducted over an 11-year period, the researchers followed a group of 27,000 people who were not diabetic and aged between 30 and 50. The individuals were tracked until they either (a) got diagnosed with type-2 diabetes; (b) got diagnosed with pre-diabetes; or (c) the end of 2016 was reached. During the study, 1,067 new cases of type-2 diabetes were diagnosed. The interesting part is that these people showed warning signs, such as insulin resistance and higher fasting blood sugar levels, up to 10 years prior. Similar warning signs were also seen in those that went on to develop pre-diabetes. So, this suggests that type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years before a diagnosis occurs. This is because people who develop type-2 diabetes usually get pre-diabetes first. Dr Hiroyuki Sagesaka, from Aizawa Hospital in Matsumoto, Japan, who led the research, said: “Because trials of prevention in people with pre-diabetes seem to be less successful over long-term follow-up, we may need to intervene much earlier than the pre-diabetes stage to prevent progression to full blown diabetes. “A much earlier intervention trail, either drug or lifestyle-related, is warranted.” [Related reading: Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two]
A leading bariatric surgeon in the UK has urged the government to offer gastric surgery to patients regardless of their weight. According to Professor Francesco Rubino, the Chair of Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at Kings College, thousands of type-2 diabetes patients in the UK are missing out on vital weight loss surgery because they do not meet the NHS's guidelines when it comes to weight. That's because, at present, only type-2 diabetes patients who have a BMI of over 30 are currently eligible for bariatric surgery. Rubino says that weight loss surgery is "the closest thing to a cure" and should be used more often. In the UK, there are around 3.6 million people with type-2 diabetes, which costs the NHS up to £10 billion a year to treat. However, approximately 15% of sufferers are "normal weight" and so don't qualify for weight loss surgery under the NHS's current guidelines. "The biggest barrier we have is primarily one of stigma against obesity. The vast majority of the public believes this is a cosmetic intervention and unfortunately many physicians think the same way," said Rubino. Rubino also highlighted that weight loss surgeries, which manipulate the stomach or small intestine, do not just help people lose weight, but actually influence insulin production by altering hormones in the person's gut. "More than 50% of people with type 2 diabetes can enjoy long term remission. Another 30 or 40% enjoy a major improvement," he added.
Long naps of more than an hour during the day could be a warning sign for type-2 diabetes, according to a new study by Japanese researchers. The link was discovered by the researchers at the University of Tokyo while analysing observational studies involving more than 300,000 people. Their findings will be presented at a meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Munich. Specifically, their research found that people who napped for more than an hour during the day had a 45% greater risk of type-2 diabetes than those who didn't take daytime naps. Interestingly, no link was found with naps of less than 40 minutes. UK experts have said that individuals with undiagnosed diabetes and other long-term illnesses often feel tired during the day. However, they also said there is no evidence at present to suggest that napping during the day increases a person's risk of developing diabetes. One possible explanation is that sleep deprivation, caused by busy work schedules and/or social commitments, potentially leads to increased appetite, which in turn could increase the risk of type-2 diabetes. Commenting on the researchers' findings, Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said: "It's likely that risk factors which lead to diabetes also cause napping. This could include slightly high sugar levels, meaning napping may be an early warning sign of diabetes."