The Most Groundbreaking Diabetes Research of 2015

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on January 14, 2016Written by Elea Carey on January 14, 2016
groundbreaking diabetes research

Diabetes is a metabolic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels due to a lack of or reduced amount of insulin, the body’s inability to use insulin correctly, or both. According to the World Health Organization, about 9 percent of adults worldwide have diabetes, and the disease kills about 1.5 million people per year.

There are two major forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that generally strikes children and young adults, and affects about 1.25 million people in the United States. Almost 28 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes. It generally develops later in life, although younger people are increasingly being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It is most commonly found in people who are overweight. Both types of diabetes can run in families.

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed with medication and significant lifestyle changes. Failure to manage diabetes has serious consequences. Diabetes causes blindness, nerve problems, cardiovascular disease, and can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. It can also cause kidney failure and foot damage severe enough to require amputation.

Over the last 30 years, diabetes cases have tripled in the United States, where it is now the 7th cause of death. While diabetes rates are rising across all ethnic groups, it is most common among African-Americans and Native Americans.

Finding a cure for diabetes is imperative. Until we’ve found one, improving awareness and helping people who already have diabetes better manage their condition is critical. Read on to learn what happened in 2015 that got us closer to those goals.

1. It helps to quit smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who smoke cigarettes are between 30 and 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. And smokers who already have diabetes are more likely to be at risk for serious health complications, like heart disease, retinopathy, and poor circulation.

2. We mined data to identify subtypes.

We think of diabetes as a single disease, but people who have it experience many differences in type and severity of symptoms. These variations are called subtypes, and a new study from researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has provided some deep insights into them. Researchers gathered anonymous data from tens of thousands of electronic medical records, advocating for the effectiveness of treatment regimens that cater to each variety in place of a one-size-fits-all approach.

3. Depression and diabetes: Which came first?

It’s relatively common for a person to have both diabetes and depression, but the relationship has always been a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. Many experts believe diabetes to be the instigator. But a recent study from researchers in Norway says that the relationship can go in both directions. They uncovered a number of physical factors for each condition that could affect, or even result in, the other. For example, while diabetes alters brain structure and functioning in ways that could potentially lead to the development of depression, antidepressants can increase the risk of developing diabetes.

4. Could a toxic diet supplement help treat diabetes?

DNP, or 2,4-Dinitrophenol, is a controversial chemical with potentially toxic side effects. While it’s been labeled “not fit for human consumption” by regulatory boards in both the United States and the U.K., it remains widely available in supplement form.

While dangerous in large quantities, a recent study considered the possibility that a controlled-release version of DNP could reverse diabetes in rats. This was because it has been successful in previous laboratory treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. The controlled-release version, called CRMP, was found to not be toxic to rats, and the researchers posited that it could be safe and effective in controlling diabetes in humans.

5. Soda is risky even for thinner body types.

We know there’s a connection between type 2 diabetes and obesity or being overweight. These weight problems often arise from a diet that is high in sugar. While that might lead you to conclude that it’s only overweight people who have to steer clear of sodas, new research shows that these drinks put anyone at risk, no matter their size.

According to an international review of existing research, drinking too many sugary drinks — including soda and fruit juice — is positively associated with type 2 diabetes, regardless of weight. Researchers found that these drinks contribute to between 4 and 13 percent of type 2 diabetes cases in the United States.

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