Developing Type 2 Diabetes: The Brain Glitch That May Be Responsible

We often associate type 2 diabetes with aspects of our physiology such as blood sugar, insulin and islets in the pancreas. The disease is usually not associated with the brain, but we may need to adjust our perception of diabetes to include it.

Researchers have evidence of a brain system that plays a regular role in glucose regulation, coordinating its efforts with our insulin-producing pancreatic islets. This brain system can lower blood glucose using insulin and non-insulin means.

While not all of us enjoy having our perceptions altered, it usually allows light into the dark corners of our thinking. If this new research proves valid, it may lead to novel preventative measures and treatments for type 2 diabetes.

A Coordinated System

In the early 20th century, some intrepid scientists thought the brain played a significant role in glucose regulation. However, insulin was discovered in 1920 and became the focal point of diabetes research and treatment.

Today, curious scientists from the Universities of Michigan, Cincinnati and Washington and the Technical University of Munich are bringing back the idea that glucose regulation is actually a coordinated effort between brain circuitry–involving the hypothalamus and other areas – and the islet cells that manufacture insulin.

These researchers are suggesting that type 2 diabetes is caused by the failure of both sugar regulating systems – the pancreatic and the brain-centered. To support this, they examine human and animal studies that reveal the brain’s powerful mechanism for regulating blood sugar apart from insulin.

The Brain-Pancreas Duet

One of the brain mechanisms scientists studied is prosaically called “glucose effectiveness.” It promotes glucose uptake into the body’s tissues independently of insulin and accounts for almost half of normal blood sugar uptake.

Here is what the researchers are thinking, minus complicated chemical terminology and equations: The pancreatic islet cells respond to rising blood sugar by releasing insulin into the body. This glucose regulation is enhanced by the brain’s complementary system of glucose effectiveness. Together, the two systems perform a biological Sugarplum Fairy-like duet.

In the development of type 2 diabetes, the brain system is surmised to be the one that initially falters. This puts the burden of glucose regulation on the pancreas; it carries on valiantly for a time but eventually weakens. As it weakens, more pressure is placed on the already faulty brain system, and the struggling pancreas is left with even more to do.

We know insulin therapy helps to maintain blood sugar levels, but we may only be addressing half the problem of diabetes. Scientists hope that by bringing the brain-centered glucose system back into the picture, it may be possible to restore a coordinated duet between the pancreas and the brain, and to therefore reverse type 2 diabetes.

Source: Medical News Today

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