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New Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Discovered

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New Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Discovered

In addition to the already well-known risk factors for type 2 diabetes, researchers have identified two previously unknown ones, according to a new report.

Over the years, scientists have discovered nearly a dozen risk factors for type 2 diabetes. The best known are overweight or obesity, inactivity, a large waist circumference, race and ethnicity, family history, and age. The new study, which was reported in the medical journal Diabetes Care, indicates that two more can be added to the list: 1) increased levels of liver fat and 2) a smaller pancreas volume. Not only that, but these factors also seem to have a genetic component, which might mean that some people are “hardwired” for type 2 diabetes.

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The researchers obtained data from 32,859 people who had undergone MRI scans as part of the UK Biobank study, which is an extensive biomedical database containing genetic and health information on some one million people in the United Kingdom. The male/female split of the study group was around 50-50 and the average age of the subjects was about 64. From the MRI scans the researchers were able to determine the fat content and size of the liver and pancreas of each subject. To evaluate the data, the researchers used what’s known as Mendelian randomization, which is a method of using genetic variation to study the relationship between risk factors and health.

Increased liver fat, smaller pancreas linked to type 2 diabetes risk

The researchers discovered that people with a genetic formation that makes them likely to store fat in the liver are more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, for every 5% increase in liver fat, the risk of type 2 diabetes goes up by 27%. In addition, the study reported that pancreas volume had a direct effect on diabetes risk: the higher the pancreas volume, the lower the risk. And this relationship, they reported, is genetic.

According to lead researcher Hanieh Yaghootkar, PhD, of Brunel University London “…people with genes that make them more likely to have a smaller pancreas have a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. These results suggest that underlying mechanisms associated with reduced pancreatic volume precede diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.” She also commented, “People with Type 2 diabetes usually have excess fat in their liver and pancreas, the two key organs in the maintenance of the normal level of blood sugar. The genetic analysis we used in this study is the best possible method to test this relationship and we showed that liver fat is causal for Type 2 diabetes.” The researchers did not find a link between the two risk factors and type 1 diabetes.

The identification of previously unknown risk factors gives hope for a better general comprehension of diabetes. Commenting on the new study, Lucy Chambers, PhD, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said it “offers new insights into the causes of Type 2 diabetes that, as we move towards an era of personalized medicine, could in future help us to improve the way we predict, prevent, and treat the condition.” Or, as Dr. Yaghootkar said, “Our results encourage better treatment of those living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and provide evidence for the multiple benefits of weight loss and better screening for diabetes risk in these people. We hope by better characterization of fat in different organs and also different organ size in the future, we can provide better understanding of the mechanisms that cause Type 2 diabetes.”

Want to learn more about type 2 diabetes? Read “Diagnostic Tests for Type 2 Diabetes” and “Welcome to Diabetes.”

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis on social media

A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. He has decades of experience writing about diabetes and related health conditions and interviewing healthcare experts.

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