Diabetes makes it into most school curriculum as the disease you get when you don’t have enough insulin. But there are two types of diabetes : type 1 and type 2. Both have a problem with insulin, but the problem is very different.
In type 1 diabetics, the pancreas just doesn’t bother making the stuff.
In type 2, the pancreas actually makes the stuff in truck loads, but none of the cells in the body care. They simple ignore the insulin. This state of affairs is described as being insulin resistant, alternative terms used to describe the condition, include metabolic syndrome or if you want to be a little more dramatic – syndrome X.
If insulin is the problem, then insulin must be the solution.
Well that is how the thinking goes.
The insulin solution
Many of the medicines used to treat diabetics strive to increase insulin levels.
One way to do this, is to give insulin injections – effectively providing insulin from outside. Another way to do this, is to “persuade” the pancreas to produce more – this is how sulphonylurea drugs work.
Researchers at Mayo Clinic have come up with a novel approach – instead of making more, they just make sure what is made, sticks around for longer.
Insulin attacked by hungry “wolves”
Too much insulin, could cause the sugar levels in your blood to drop dangerously low, resulting in hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is very serious, because it means there is no food for the cells. Brain cells are particularly sensitive and start to die.
So your body carefully controls insulin/sugar levels. The insulin that is produced, is quickly removed, to stop it working for too long. The way the body removes the insulin, is to create a special enzyme, called insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), which tears the insulin molecule apart, so it no longer works.
NOTE : Naturally insulin is degraded very quickly (half-life is measured in minutes). To overcome this problem, the insulin molecules that are injected into insulin dependent diabetics, have been altered a little bit, to make it more difficult for the enzymes to break it down.
Blocking insulin breakdown
The researchers from Mayo Clinic did a little fiddling in the genome of some mice (they created IDE knockout mice) to test their idea, that blocking insulin breakdown could be a way of treating people with diabetes.
The genetic modification created a type of mice without the enzyme (IDE), so these animals were no longer able to break down insulin as quickly. The normal insulin produced by the body, ended up sticking around a lot longer than usual.
That lot longer, meant that it worked a little bit more efficiently.
Sugar slaying supermice
The genetically modified mice were super at controlling sugar levels. They were mean lean fighting machines to begin with, at least.
The researchers at Mayo Clinic are excited, because they believe their new approach may lead to a new drug to “treat” type 2 diabetics.
Supermice suffering from type 2 diabetes
This is the part of the story which is most important for you.
A funny thing happened to the sugar slaying supermice ….. initially, the mice were super healthy, but as time went by – they developed diabetes.
Yup, the truck loads of insulin eventually caused insulin resistance. When insulin resistance kicked in, the animals struggled to control their sugar levels.
The insulin solution backfires
This is what is happening to lots of humans who are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Too much insulin, eventually short circuits metabolism.
The more carbohydrate foods you eat, the more your body produces insulin, because insulin is the hormone tasked with “handling” sugar. Trouble is, the high levels of insulin cause cells to stop responding. Sugar levels start creeping up, because the normal physiological response is defective and the pancreas can no longer cope.
Protecting yourself from metabolic syndrome begins with controlling insulin levels. Controlling insulin depends on watching your carbohydrate intake.
Type 2 diabetes happens when your pancreas gives up the ghost, because it cannot produce enough insulin to meet your body’s requirement. Help your pancreas by limiting your carbohydrate intake.Deletion of Insulin-Degrading Enzyme Elicits Antipodal, Age-Dependent Effects on Glucose and Insulin Tolerance. PLoS ONE (2011) ; Samer O. Abdul-Hay, Dongcheul Kang, Melinda McBride, Lilin Li, Ji Zhao, Malcolm A. Leissring.
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