Diabetes May Start in Intestines

intestines diabetesDiabetes may start in the intestines, not the pancreas or liver, as long-held theories about the causes of the disease have proposed. Diabetes is a metabolism disorder where the quantity of glucose (blood sugar) is too elevated, because either the body does not produce enough insulin, produces no insulin, or has cells that do not respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces. This results in too much glucose building up in the blood. In a new study, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine studied mice that are unable to make fatty acid synthase (FAS) in the intestines, which is a critical enzyme in the production of lipids. FAS is regulated by insulin, and people with diabetes have defects in FAS.

The researchers found that mice with defects in their ability to make FAS in their intestines develop inflammation and diabetes. Without FAS, the mice had lost the protective lining of mucus in the intestines that keeps microbes from direct exposure to cells. This loss of mucus allows bacteria to penetrate otherwise healthy cells in the gut and cause inflammation. Insulin resistance and inflammation are connected: inflammatory substances can create insulin resistance and interfere with insulin production, which hinders blood sugar regulation. In turn, insulin resistance promotes inflammation. The study author explained that it makes sense that the gut is so central to the development of diabetes because many people with the condition not only have faulty FAS, but they also often develop gastrointestinal issues. In fact, stomach pain and diarrhea are some of the most common troubles reported by people with diabetes.

A recent study found that a diabetes epidemic may be right around the corner: Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the length of time a person carries excess weight directly contributes to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. This is particularly troubling with the CDC now citing that the rate of obese children, aged 6–11 years in the United States, at nearly 20 percent in 2008.  Read the American Heart Association’s newest strategies for addressing childhood obesity.

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