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Can Diabetes Save Your Life?

David Spero

March 24, 2010

This is rather amazing. A very large study finds that people with diabetes mellitus (DM) may be less likely to die when admitted to intensive care for other conditions. People without diabetes actually may have a greater risk of intensive care death.

The study by doctors at the University of Colorado was published in Critical Care Medicine in January 2010. There were over one-and-a-half million patients’ records reviewed. More than 140,000 of these people had died. To qualify for the study, the subjects had to have been admitted to intensive care and be 18 years old or older.

In one subset of patients, people with diabetes had less chance of dying than other people did. The authors concluded: “Critically ill adults with DM do not have an increased mortality compared with that seen in patients without DM, and may have a decreased mortality.”

Lead researcher Ivor Douglas, MD, said, “The surprising finding highlights that despite decades of investigation, we continue to have a limited understanding of the…effects of diabetes in critical illness.” He said this study actually is in line with previous studies that found no increased risk of death in people with diabetes.

Please note: People with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or diabetic coma were excluded from the study. This report is about deaths from other causes.

How Could This Be?
How could it be that having a serious disease like diabetes could protect people against death in the ICU? It might be that people with diabetes are more used to some of the problems that hospital treatment can cause.

Dr. Douglas says, “there was a particularly [bad] effect of acute hyperglycemia in nondiabetic patients which may account for the significant difference in mortality we found between diabetic and nondiabetic patients in critical illness.” In other words, people with diabetes may be better able to handle high levels of glucose.

But nobody really knows. I could imagine how being used to swings in glucose might help a body that was receiving lots of IVs with different glucose concentrations. I just think it’s nice that there is some slight benefit from having diabetes.

The researchers’ bottom line, as usual, is that “Further investigation needs to be done to determine the mechanism for this effect… it’s time to evaluate [how this] might be [used to improve treatment].”

Do Statins Increase Diabetes Risk?
A study in The Lancet, perhaps the world’s leading medical journal, found that the use of anticholesterol medicines called statins are associated with a 9% increased risk of diabetes

The study at the University of Glasgow reviewed 13 earlier studies that included a total of 91,140 participants. All of the studies were done from 1994 to 2009. The researchers eliminated several other possible causes for the increased diabetes rate. But they do not claim statins actually caused the diabetes. Additionally, they said the increased risk did not offset the health benefits of lowered cholesterol. Therefore, they recommended no change in the use of the drugs for people with moderate or high cardiovascular risk or cardiovascular disease.

Vitamin D Preventing Diabetes
A new report in the journal Maturitas found that high levels of vitamin D seemed to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 55% in older adults. That’s a pretty big reduction.

Researchers at England’s Warwick Medical School reviewed 28 previous studies from the US, Europe, Iran, India, and Australasia, totaling nearly 100,000 people. Those who had the highest levels of vitamin D had 43% less “cardiometabolic disease” than the rest of the subjects. Cardiovascular disease was down 33%; Type 2 diabetes was reduced by 55%.

The researchers concluded, “If the relationship proves to be causal, interventions targeting vitamin D deficiency in adult populations could potentially slow the current epidemics of cardiometabolic disorders.” Personally, I wouldn’t wait for more studies. Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D now, from sunshine, fish, mushrooms, or supplements.



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