Brief Bursts of Exercise May Help Reverse Hypoglycemia Unawareness in Diabetes, Animal Study Shows

Roughly 25% of people with Type 1 diabetes eventually develop hypoglycemia unawareness, or a loss of the ability to sense when their blood sugar levels are low. But according to preliminary new animal research out of the University of Dundee in Scotland, bursts of high-intensity activity may be able to help those with the condition regain the ability to detect lows.

Roughly 1.25 million people in the United States and 400,000 people in the United Kingdom have Type 1 diabetes. In those who develop hypoglycemia awareness, the usual warning signs of a low, such as sweating, trembling, numbness, and rapid pulse, are not experienced. Without any indication that they need to treat their low blood sugar, they may develop severe hypoglycemia, potentially leading to confusion, unconsciousness, and even death. The condition can be caused by nerve damage that impacts the body’s ability to secrete adrenaline, as well as by very tight blood sugar control, which can lessen the ability to feel blood sugar drops.

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To determine whether short bursts of high-intensity exercise can help the body regain its ability to detect hypoglycemia, the researchers repeatedly exposed rats to low blood sugar over the course of four weeks. The animals were then split into three groups, which were made to either exercise at low intensity, exercise at high intensity, or not exercise at all. The rats were then tested 24 hours later for their response to low blood sugar levels. The researchers found that the rats in the high-intensity exercise group showed the best response to hypoglycemia.

“Hypoglycemia episodes are an unavoidable part of life for those living with Type 1 diabetes. After a few years, some people with Type 1 diabetes might not even know they are suffering from one of these episodes, and this puts them at high risk of severe hypos,” noted lead study author Alison McNeilly, PhD. “While there are no treatments available for the management of hypoglycemia unawareness, our breakthrough could represent a nondrug based treatment for this seriously debilitating and potentially deadly condition.”

The researchers are setting up a trial to test these findings in people with Type 1 diabetes.

For more information, read the article “Bursts of high-intensity exercise could help diabetes patients manage low blood sugar levels” or see study abstract OC4.1 on page 62 of the Endocrine Abstracts of the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference. And for more information on regaining the ability to sense low blood sugar, see the article “Be Aware of Hypoglycemia Unawareness,” by certified diabetes educators Karen Kelly and Amy Gilliland.

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