‘The new finding may change the way diabetes is treated’

A recent study has found that glucagon, one of the two hormones produced by the pancreas, plays an important role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

In the study done on a group of 81 persons in a tertiary care centre for diabetes in Chennai between September and November 2019, candidates aged over 25 of both sexes and without a history of diabetes were selected. The study titled, “Hyperglucagonemia and impaired insulin sensitivity are associated with development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes — A study from South India”, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews.

Influence of glucagon

The aim was to assess the influence of glucagon in persons with normal glucose tolerance, pre-diabetics and newly diagnosed diabetes. “The pancreas has alpha cells and beta cells. Alpha cells produce glucagon and beta cells, insulin. This is for the first time in India glucagon level has been studied. So far, we were thinking insulin is the main culprit but here we have shown that glucagon levels are elevated especially in pre-diabetics and early, newly diagnosed diabetics. We found that glucagon level is high especially in the newly diagnosed and pre-diabetic people,” Vijay Viswanathan, chief diabetologist, M.V. Hospital for Diabetes, said.

The findings could change how diabetes is treated as till now it was believed to be caused due to the impaired capability of beta cells that produce insulin.

Although in the west glucagon is included, across the world data on glucagon was low, he said.

“This has a lot of implications for treatment. Usually people are treated with metformin but this finding is going to change that. People will have to talk about reduction of glucagon levels from the beginning,” Dr. Vijay said.

Satyavani Kumpatla, lead researcher, said the kit to measure glucagon had to be imported from Sweden as it was not even measured in India. “There was limited data on glucagon levels. From this study, we conclude that hyperglucagonemia may contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. The levels of glucagon was higher in pre-diabetes and newly diagnosed diabetics than normal subjects. All the three groups had elevated fasting glucagon levels,” she said.

Dr. Vijay said the study indicated that diabetologists should urge people to do aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises. “Women should build muscle mass to improve insulin sensitivity. Resistance training is need to improve insulin sensitivity,” he said.

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