For several years now, researchers have been looking at Type 2 diabetes as a possible "inflammatory disease." I first got intrigued by this concept at the big ADA Conference in June this year, and by reading fellow D-blogger David Mendosa's coverage thereof.
What exactly intrigued me? A couple of interesting things:
* First, I wasn't even sure what "inflammatory" means in this context. I thought inflammatory diseases were strictly those that affect your joints, like arthritis. It turns out that white blood cells and "inflammatory messengers" including complex fatty acids act like security guards in our bodies, and are essential to our health. Inflammatory disease comes about when the body overreacts or attacks itself instead of a legitimate target, like an infection.
* What this means — and this is the big shift in medical thinking — is that Type 2 diabetes may also be an immune system disorder. There appear to be "imbalances in cytokines, an immune system component that causes inflammation." This inflammation seems to explain the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes better than increasing obesity in this country, for example, because clearly there are many, many overweight people who do not develop diabetes.
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* If this inflammation syndrome could be blocked, it may halt the development of insulin resistance. And if this line of thinking is in fact correct, it may mean that the cure for Type 2 diabetes also lies in "unlocking the mysteries of the immune system."
* At least one prominent researcher at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Steve Shoelson, is looking into whether anti-inflammatory drugs can help combat diabetes, and the whole triad of "metabolic syndrome" (the combination of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease).
Could all of this mean more research efforts and dollars towards auto-immunity and diabetes? Good news for us Type 1s as well. Not only that, but you can hardly throw a pebble in this country without hitting someone suffering from one or more of the components of metabolic syndrome. They're huge killers, so any progress towards clipping them is good. But of course it's not all about just popping pills, be they for inflammation or other root causes:
These drugs can work in concert with lifestyle changes to help prevent disease, researcher Shoelson says. "We need to return ourselves to the exercise levels and diet that people had centuries ago."
Sage advice. Nevertheless, per David Mendosa: "We are just beginning to realize the huge role that reducing inflammation can play in getting control of diabetes."