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The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 180 million people have diabetes. Roughly 90 percent have what's called Type Two diabetes, caused by the body's ineffective use of insulin. Researchers have focused in recent years on a hormone derived from fat cells, called adiponectin, which is shown to lower the risk of diabetes. Scientists now hope this could improve the treatment of diabetes or even prevent it altogether.
You can blame it on the food that is too high in fat and sugar, or you can blame it on a lack of exercise, or both. But according to the World Health Organization, hundreds of millions of people around the world are gaining weight, and the fatter they get, the greater their risk of diabetes.
Obesity and physical inactivity are common conditions associated with Type Two diabetes. The WHO projects that 330 million to 360 million people will be diagnosed as diabetics by the year 2030.
Doctors have preached diet and exercise to patients for decades. Now researchers have noticed that high levels of one fat-producing hormone is not such a bad thing, after all.
Rob van Dam is with the Harvard School of Public Health.
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"The fat that you have on your body, we thought that it's just sitting there, not doing much," he said. "But it's secreting all kinds of signaling molecules of which adiponectin seems to be an important one."
Scientists have known about the fat-producing hormone adiponectin for some time. But van Dam and his colleagues at Harvard have looked at studies of at least 14,000 patients and confirmed something interesting: They are not sure why, but patients with a lower risk of Type Two diabetes seem to have higher levels of adiponectin.
"It actually has beneficial effects on the liver and on muscles and it increases insulin sensitivity, it seems, and it reduces inflammation," he added.
Van Dam says the link between adiponectin and a lower risk of the disease is consistent, regardless of an individual's body mass index, gender or race. That, he says, raises hope for screening and further treatment involving adiponectin, or in prevention of the disease itself.
"It's an interesting finding because we know that certain ethnic groups, certain racial groups seem to be more sensitive to develop[ing] Type Two diabetes," he explained.
The research appeared recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.