When you think of treatments for diabetes, what comes to mind? Maybe oral medications like metformin or glipizide? Injectable insulin? Hopefully diet and exercise are frontrunners, but what about hormones? Sure, insulin is a hormone, so maybe that doesn’t seem so odd, but what about a hormone that can actually increase the number of cells which make insulin?
Insulin is produced in the pancreatic beta cells. It serves as a “key” to unlock our cells so they are able to take in energy (aka our blood glucose). The diagram below shows the progressive response of the body to insulin as diabetes progresses.
In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to insulin, which causes our pancreas to pump out more and more in response. Eventually, this can lead to exhaustion of our healthy beta cells, which can stop working all together (or produce too little insulin for us to use effectively). Once the body cannot make enough insulin, our blood sugars are consistently elevated, and we may need to start using injectable insulin. Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute have found that when livers in mice were programmed to secrete more of the hormone betatrophin, the number of beta cells in the mice increased threefold. Researcher Doug Melton states, “We would provide this hormone, then the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes.” Unfortunately, the researchers do not believe that this would impact how type 1 diabetes is treated.
Of course, there will be a long testing process before your doctor will be able to prescribe this as a treatment. It will first be tested on mice with diabetes, and only if positive results are seen will testing move to human subjects. In the meantime, another way to manage your type 2 diabetes (without a prescription) involves decreasing our resistance to insulin. This can include eating a controlled and consistent amount of carbohydrates (one of the macronutrients, along with protein and fat, which can be found in grains, starches, fruits, and dairy products, along with sweetened and dessert-type foods), staying active through exercise, and maintaining a healthful weight. Not sure where to start? Your dietitian can determine an appropriate individualized meal plan for weight management.
Written by: Kelly Houston, Saint Louis Dietetic Intern