The Diabetes Paradox: The Disease Of Civilization, The Misfortune Due To Comfort

in medicine, biology, education

One hundred years of research and the ultimate synthesis of recombinant insulin have not done any good to the incidence of diabetes. Paradoxically, the occurrence of diabetes in different parts of the world is growing with ferocity.

The homeostasis of glucose  in the body is achieved by a fine naturally selected mechanism involving insulin. Insulin is a peptide hormone secreted by the pancreatic beta cells in response to an elevation in the blood glucose concentration. Insulin, like other hormones travels through the circulating blood and binds to target cells thereby opening the gates for the entry of glucose into these cells. This mechanism ensures that the critical tissues like brain receives supplies of glucose unhindered giving only a second priority to skeletal muscles.  

For both men and women, the age-adjusted incidence of diagnosed diabetes was more than 2 times higher in 2009 than in 1980. Courtesy: CDC.gov

In type 2 diabetes glucose fails to release insulin from the pancreatic beta cells through hereditarily determined deficiency. Additionally, the situation is confounded by an insensitivity of skeletal muscle cells to insulin. Both these conditions cause accumulation of glucose in the blood.  Normally, elevated glucose level in the blood releases insulin from the pancreas and insulin acts on cells in the body to stimulate glucose uptake, utilization and storage.  

More recent experimental data from various circles indicate that higher concentrations of lipids (fats) in the blood aggravate insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. Biochemically, obesity does not go well with diabetes. Lack of physical mobility and increase in the comfort level of humans is one suspect in the higher incidence of diabetes. It is for this reason that diabetes is often called a disease of civilization. It is therefore, worth to ponder at the evolution of the human physical comforts.  Historically, the first contributor to the lack of physical mobility in humans was the invention of the wheel. The invention of agriculture and the availability of food grains as ready sources of carbohydrate further boosted the incidence  of diabetes. Then the industrial revolution brought in polished foods and much later the sodas with high fructose corn syrup. Smaller family size in the current generation especially in the Asian countries only added fuel to the diabetes fire. Most recent additions to this list include fast food, television, personal computers (internet), and the cell phones.

References used:

1. Lack of regular physical exercise or too much inactivity. Thyfault, J.P., Booth, F.W. Current Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011, April 23. (Epub ahead of print).

2. The search for genetic risk factors of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Park, K.S. Diabetes Metab J. 2011, 35: 12 – 22.

3. Molecular mechanisms of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Saini, V. World J Diabetes. 2010, 15: 68 – 75.

Author Dr Bassa Babu is a PhD in Biochemistry and a senior research scientist based in San Diego, California.  Dr Babu has published several original research articles in peer-reviewed journals.

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