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Study Aims to Stem Type-2 Diabetes

  • Joe DeCapua

Jonas Lukano, 60, who is has diabetes, is watched over by his sister at the state general hospital in Congo's capital of Kinshasa. (file photo)

Jonas Lukano, 60, who is has diabetes, is watched over by his sister at the state general hospital in Congo's capital of Kinshasa. (file photo)

More than 370-million people around the world are being treated for diabetes. That number is expected to grow as more countries adopt Western-style diets laden with fat, salt and sugar. The European Commission is now funding a study to see whether type-2 diabetes can be prevented through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

The $12 million study – known as PREVIEW -- is called the largest of its kind. Besides European Union countries, it will include New Zealand, Australia and Canada. About 2,500 people will take part.

“There are several types of diabetes. There’s the one that you get which is mainly genetic, inherited. It’s type-1 diabetes. Another type that you get [is] if you have a lifestyle that gives you diabetes, type-2 diabetes, which is normally related to overweight and obesity. In the old times, it was the elderly who got it, but nowadays it’s also children and adolescents, who can get type-2 diabetes,” said Professor Anne Raben of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. She is the project’s chief coordinator.

There’s also a type called gestational diabetes, which women may get when pregnant. However, this generally disappears after giving birth.”

“Diabetes means you can’t control your blood glucose, your blood sugar yourself. You need help, for instance, drugs,” she said.

Under normal conditions, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which keeps glucose levels under control. When that fails to happen, it’s called insulin resistance or hyperglycemia.

Type-2 diabetes may lack symptoms at first. Later, it may lead to frequent infections that are slow to heal, increased urination, thirst and hunger, as well as nerve pain or numbness in the extremities. It can result in blindness, amputations and death. Medication or insulin therapy may be needed.

More people are also being diagnosed as having a condition called metabolic syndrome. It’s a combination of risk factors, such as obesity, high glucose levels, high blood pressure and smoking.

Raben said, “It’s a stage which normally or often could develop into diabetes or real cardiovascular diseases. So, it’s kind of a situation where your body’s out of control, but you’re not yet very ill or you don’t maybe need drugs yet to help.”

Professor Raben explained the need for such a large study, saying, “Diabetes is exploding. Type-2 diabetes is exploding and it’s related to [being] overweight. And you could call it a diabesity epidemic – diabetes and obesity epidemic, which is worldwide. So we need to do something.”

She said developing countries may face a double problem. On the one hand, some people may not be eating enough food – and on the other, some may be eating too much food containing high levels of salt, fat and sugar. That can lead diabesity.

The PREVIEW study will weigh the effects of two different diets. The first is widely recommended in EU nations and calls for moderate protein and carbohydrate intake and lots of fiber.

The other is based on a previous six month study of generally healthy people called Diogenes. It recommends a different mix of proteins and carbs.

She said, “They found out that a high protein, low glycemic index diet – that is a diet with slowly absorbable carbohydrates and high protein content – was very good at preventing weight gain after weight loss. It’s fairly easy to lose weight. Most people can lose weight if they’re focused following some diet with lower calories, but after the diet most people gain weight again. So it’s very hard to keep a weight loss for most people.”

However, the Diogenes study showed that a high protein, low glycemic index diet helps people to keep the weight off. Exercise regimens will also be included in the PREVIEW study.

What’s more, researchers will consider the effects of sleep and stress on weight. Some studies have shown that those who get too few hours of sleep are more prone to weight gain. There’s also some evidence that too much stress can trigger hormones that can help to pack on the pounds.

The three year clinical research project will be accompanied by a review of demographic data of more than 170,000 people in Europe, Canada and New Zealand.