Heritage Plays Key Role in Diabetes Development

Patients diagnosed with diabetes may be able to blame the food their ancestors ate for their condition as easily as they can blame their own eating habits, according to a recent study.

Patients diagnosed with diabetes may be able to blame the food their ancestors ate for their condition as easily as they can blame their own eating habits, according to a recent study.

According to work done at the University of Sydney’s NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, heritage has played a role in people from “developing countries” being “more susceptible than western Caucasians to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in today’s changing environment.” The results of the research were published recently in Cell Metabolism.

The statement from the school noted that the study could reinforce prior work showing that “more than 70 per cent of the global burden of type 2 diabetes will fall on individuals from developing countries by 2030.”

As developing countries see their populations adopt a more robust diet than they had in the past, researchers are noting variations among populations’ risk for developing a variety of conditions. “Their populations’ epigenetic makeup, whereby changing environmental factors alter how people’s genes are expressed, has not compensated for these dietary changes,” the statement said. “This means their bodies are still designed to cope with under nourishment; so they store fat in a manner that makes them more prone to obesity and its resulting diabetes than populations accustomed to several generations of a ‘normal’ diet.”

Research for the study involved two groups of rats, one of which was “undernourished for 50 generations and then put on a normal diet for 2 generations.” The control group kept a normal diet for all 52 generations. The first group “did not reverse the epigenetic modifications made by their undernourished forbearers.” As a result, the authors noted they were 8 times more likely to develop conditions like diabetes than the control group.

Associate Professor Anandwardhan A. Hardikar said the fact that the genetics were not changed in the generations with a normal diet was significant for future research. “Instead, this newly prosperous population favored storage of the excess nutrients as fat leading to increased obesity, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic risk for diabetes when compared to their ‘developed world’ counterparts.”

Hardikar also said that B12 levels could be an indicator of the affect this has on future generations.

“Hopefully further research in understanding their gut microbes, which are major producers of Vitamin B12 in our body, and/or dietary supplementation with Vitamin B12 and other micronutrients, could reduce the risk of metabolic diseases in the coming generations.”