Type 2 Diabetes Research: What’s New?

Neil Armstrong once said, “Research is creating new knowledge.” It certainly is, and when that research is in the field of medicine, the impact on humankind can be immense. Particularly in the case of chronic conditions such as diabetes, groundbreaking research can transform and save lives. With research and awareness in mind, here are some new developments in Type 2 diabetes.

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Rediscovering Type 2 diabetes

While a cure for Type 1 diabetes may be nearing, is the same true for Type 2 diabetes? Possibly.

Finding relief from diabetes medications

Until recently, the reversal of diabetes has not been considered possible. However, a study at McMaster University in Canada suggests that short-term, intensive lifestyle remedies may help achieve prolonged relief from diabetes medication. In a trial involving 83 people with Type 2 diabetes, the researchers studied the effects of either eight-week or 16-week intensive metabolic interventions, followed by discontinuation of all drugs. The treatment included lifestyle therapies for the duration of the study, resulting in a three-month remission in up to 40 percent of participants.

In a similar trial of 298 participants in the UK, an intensive weight-loss program resulted in the remission of Type 2 diabetes. The participants’ diets were limited to 850 calories per day for up to five months. Within 12 months, almost 50 percent of the participants achieved a medication-free, non-diabetes state. These participants were carefully monitored, so don’t make any drastic changes to your diet without first seeking guidance.

The power of sulforaphane

Researchers have also been looking more closely at compounds in food. In June 2017, the natural compound sulforaphane, contained in vegetables like broccoli, was found to counteract the effects of diabetes. In particular, sulforaphane has been found to reduce glucose levels in rats with diabetes. Researchers believe sulforaphane can be used in drug production as an alternative to metformin, which is associated with kidney damage.

Social isolation prevention

The fact that diabetes is lifestyle-related is not new. However, mental and social well-being play a critical role in lifestyle management too. Researchers from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands used an existing database of nearly 3,000 people with Type 2 diabetes to identify certain features of social isolation that may be linked to the condition. They found that the smaller the person’s social network, the larger the association with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. According to lead researcher Stephanie Brinkhues, “Resolving social isolation may help prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.”

Redefining diabetes

Not surprisingly, as new discoveries arise, diabetes is being redefined. In March 2018, researchers from Sweden and Finland deduced from a large-scale study that there are actually five distinctive types of adult-onset diabetes rather than two. Of these, two are mild forms of diabetes, while three are severe.

Classifying these distinct types of diabetes will likely facilitate new research and diagnosis, thereby driving increasingly accurate and tailored treatment. Indeed, many people with late-developing diabetes have been misdiagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, when they could in fact have late-onset autoimmune diabetes (associated with GADA). Late-onset autoimmune diabetes needs to be treated in a similar way to Type 1 diabetes, so making this distinction is fundamental to receiving the best possible treatment.

Type/Subtype or cluster characteristics

Cluster 1
Severe autoimmune diabetes
• presence of glutamate decarboxylase antibodies (GADA), which contributes to late-onset autoimmune diabetes
• young age at diagnosis
• relatively low body-mass index
• poor blood sugar control
• insulin deficiency

Cluster 2
Severe insulin-deficient diabetes
• similar to Cluster 1, but immune system not linked to diabetes (no autoantibodies)
• possible deficiencies in insulin-producing cells
• higher risk of diabetic eye disease

Cluster 3
Severe insulin-resistant diabetes
• usually overweight
• high insulin resistance despite natural insulin production
• higher risk of kidney disease

Cluster 4
Mild obesity-related diabetes
• relatively mild degree of diabetes
• not insulin resistant
• metabolic issues
• typically obese

Cluster 5
Mild age-related diabetes
• similar to Cluster 4, but typically older at diagnosis
• most common form of diabetes in this study
• mild problems with glucose control

The road ahead

Based on the World Health Organization’s estimates, over 400 million people suffer from diabetes globally. This is likely to increase to 642 million by 2040. In this context, innovation in diabetes research will play a pivotal role in the future of treatment. However, equally critical is the participation of those with diabetes in utilizing this new knowledge and any innovative products that emerge from it. Keeping up to date with research is an important component of effective self-management and will help you harness the power of innovation to take better care of yourself.

Want to learn more about diabetes research? Read “Study Links Type 2 Diabetes to Cognitive Decline.”

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