An estimated one million Americans suffer from Type 1 Diabetes, a lifelong disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to properly control blood sugar levels. Type 1 (and Type 2, or adult-onset) diabetes patients usually suffer complications including damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, as well as cardiovascular disease. Now a new research shows some Type 1 diabetics may have a naturally occurring mechanism that protects them from the long-term side effects of poor insulin production.
Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is needed to move blood sugar (glucose) into cells, where it is stored and later used for energy. In type 1 diabetes, these cells produce little or no insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells. And when the body is unable to use this glucose for energy, it leads to serious health complications for most diabetes sufferersbut, as it turns out, not for all of them.
To find out why some patients escaped such serious consequences, Dr. Jennifer K. Sun and Dr. George L. King, of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, along with their colleagues, studied 351 Americans from 42 states who have lived with Type 1 diabetes for at least 50 years. (Thats an unusually long period of time for sufferers to live with the disease.) The average age of the subjects was 68 and most of them were diagnosed before they were teenagers.
Among their subjects, the researchers discovered there was a group who hadnt suffered with some of the typical complications of the disease.Explaining the reasons these patients were shielded from complications wasnt simple: The blood-sugar levels of the long-time survivors were no different than those of patients that did not live that long. We have identified a group of people who can clearly live well with diabetes for a long time," said the study's senior author, King said. "Now, we're in the process of finding out why.To do that, researchers also evaluated a family of proteins known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These are increased by high blood sugar levels. Those who had high levels of two specific AGEs were more than seven times as likely to have complications of diabetes. This finding seemed to make a strong connection but there was a hitch. People with other combinations of some of the AGEs that were measured were actually protected from eye complications. King said, This finding suggests some AGE combinations may not be as toxic as believed and may actually act as a protection. The studys findings were published in the Journal of Diabetes Care.Theres still a lot to learn about why some diabetes sufferers are shielded from the diseases side effects, and researchers are continuing to dig deeper. Getting to the root of the triggers may help doctors find ways to intervene before their patients experience devastating consequences.Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.
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