Mutations and 6 Other Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
A novel way to prevent type 2 diabetes may rest with the discovery concerning mutations in a specific gene, even in people who have significant risk factors for the disease. This is exciting news that deserves immediate further research, but in the meantime there are other more actionable ways to prevent type 2 diabetes at your fingertips.
The new discovery was the culmination of efforts over a period of years by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute in collaboration with several other entities (i.e., Lund University, Pfizer Inc. deCODE genetics). Basically, the researchers found that rare mutations in the gene SLC30A8, which previously was known to have a role in type 2 diabetes, can reduce the risk of the disease by 65 percent.
Briefly, the investigators conducted a genetic evaluation of 150,000 individuals who had severe risk factors for type 2 diabetes yet never developed the disease. They looked for rare mutations and found one that eliminated the activity of the SLC30A8 gene.
This discovery was surprising since animal studies had indicated mutations of the gene might raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. When the scientists shared their find with other experts, another mutation was found that also seemed to stop the gene’s function as well as reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower blood sugar levels in people without diabetes.
This information was then shared with the T2D-GENES Project. The T2D-GENES (Genetic Exploration by Next-generation sequencing in Ethnic Samples) Project is an international collaborative effort that uses next-generation sequencing to identify rare variations in genes that influence the susceptibility to developing type 2 diabetes in various ethnic groups.
As part of the T2D-GENES Project, 13,000 samples were sequenced. Ten more mutations of the SLC30A8 gene were uncovered, and when the investigators reviewed all the findings, they concluded that inheriting one copy of a mutation of the gene resulted in a 65 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This discovery is important because it is a stepping stone for developing new drugs that can provide the same disease-stopping powers of the mutations. Until then, however, anyone at risk of developing type 2 diabetes should take other steps to help prevent the disease.
Preventing type 2 diabetes
Although there are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes that individuals cannot change (e.g., age, family history of the disease, genetics, ethnicity), the disease is largely impacted by lifestyle decisions. Therefore, there are several significant actions that can greatly minimize the unchangeable risk factors to help prevent development of the disease.
- Weight management. Since overweight and obesity are major risk factors for the disease, make lifestyle modifications to keep your weight in a healthful range.
- Diet. Choose foods that are included in eating programs shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes, such as DASH, Mediterranean, and plant-based diets that focus on fresh foods, low fat, low sugar, and high fiber and reduce or eliminate refined and processed foods.
- Exercise. Engage in regular physical activity as a way to keep weight under control, help fight other risk factors for type 2 diabetes (e.g., high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, insulin resistance) and relieve stress.
As you can see, the good news is that these three steps to help prevent type 2 diabetes can also take care of several other risk factors for the disease; namely, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Three other preventive steps include
- Family and social support to help you stay on task
- Use of herbal and other natural supplements
- Regular screenings to monitor blood sugar levels
The discovery that mutations of the SLC30A8 gene are associated with a significant reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes will hopefully lead to new ways to ward off this disease. However, at least for the foreseeable future, individuals need to make responsible decisions regarding their lifestyle to help prevent development of type 2 diabetes.
Flannick et al. Loss of function mutations in SLC30A8 protect against type 2 diabetes. Nature Genetics 2014 Feb. DOI:10.1038/ng.2915