Oct. 3, 2001 World-first research at the University of Otago in New Zealand could help reverse the world-wide epidemic of diabetes and significantly reduce heart disease.
The innovative study won researcher Dr Kirsten McAuley the Young Investigator Award at an international nutrition conference in Vienna recently.
The study of 79 people aged 35-60 suggests a combination of intensive exercise and specific changes to diet could prevent or dramatically reduce the risk of adult-onset diabetes (type 2 diabetes) and heart disease.
Volunteers who followed specific exercise and diet guidelines increased their insulin sensitivity — the ability of their bodies to use insulin properly — by about 20%. An additional group of 36 Mäori (indigenous New Zealanders) also included in the study showed a similar improvement in their insulin action.
"Lifestyle changes are known to have a beneficial impact on people who already have diabetes. However, the unique aspect of our study is that we targeted otherwise-healthy people who do not make insulin properly but have not yet developed diabetes," says research team leader, Dr Kirsten McAuley, of the University’s Human Nutrition Department.
"Our findings are exciting because poor insulin sensitivity is a major risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Type 2 diabetes affects more than 15 million Americans alone and is projected to affect 300 million people world-wide by 2025. It’s predicted that there will be a 42% increase in its prevalence in developed countries and a 62% in crease in developing countries during this period."
Three groups were studied over four months, a control group, a "modest" group who followed common diet and exercise guidelines for general health, and an intensive group who were given specific advice on diet and exercise.
Dr McAuley says the aim of the study was to compare the groups to see if the degree of lifestyle changes made a significant difference to their insulin sensitivity and risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
"The key finding was that insulin sensitivity didn’t improve significantly in the modest group but in the intensive group there was an improvement of anywhere from 16-23% in insulin action. So it looks as if we need to target dietary change and exercise more specifically to get the real benefit," Dr McAuley says.
"The results suggest that if people follow the guidelines developed for the intensive group, before they develop impaired glucose tolerance [the next stage], their chances of developing diabetes and heart disease may be reduced significantly.
Dr McAuley says the next stage of the research is to see if the study participants can maintain these lifestyle changes over a longer period of up to one and half years.
The study was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, Novo Nordisk, the University of Otago and the Otago Diabetes Research Trust.
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