Mt. Everest research reveals how type 2 diabetes can develop

What does a trek up Mt. Everest have to do with diabetes research?

In assessing how low oxygen in the body is associated with insulin resistance, a study published in PLOS One found there was much to learned on that mountain - and the results could change the way we understand and treat type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the UCL Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme environment medicine (CASE Medicine) led 24 people to Mount Everest for the project. The participants were tested at intervals for glucose control, body weight fluctuations and inflammation biomarkers at Everst Base Camp. Half of the participants climbed the mountain to an altitude of 8,848m, while the other half remained at Base Camp, where altitude is 5,300m.

What does cold have to do with it?

Mike Grocott, Professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care at the University of Southampton and co-founder of UCL CASE Medicine, explained that fat tissue in obese people mimics how the body reacts in hypoxia (low oxygen levels), as the blood vessels aren't able to bring enough oxygen to the fat tissue.

By testing how healthy people reacted in extreme altitudes, the results showed what researchers can normally only see in obese people at sea level, Grocott said.

Insulin resistance increased

After exposure to hypoxia at high altitude for six to eight weeks, markers of insulin resistance increased. This was due to increased inflammation and oxidative stress, the researchers reported.

More studies on how these mechanisms cause insulin resistance and full-blown diabetes can be helpful in identifying new interventions, they said.

"These exciting results give us a unique insight into the possible mechanism of insulin resistance in diabetes and provide some clues as to where we should be thinking about focusing further research on novel treatments for this disease," said Dr. Daniel Martin, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant, UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science and Director of UCL CASE Medicine. "It also demonstrates the value of using healthy volunteers in studies carried out at high altitude to patients at sea level."

Source: University of Southhampton

Photo credit: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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