Diabetes can be a difficult topic to talk about because it can be difficult to understand in the first place. The Texas Tech Professors discussed the differences in type 1 and type 2 diabetes and the revolutionary research.
Andrew Shin, an assistant professor in the Tech’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, recently made a discovery of a possible mechanistic way in which the amino acids in branched chains are neurologically controlled and how they are related to diabetes.
“This stems from my early discovery, which shows how certain amino acids called branched chain amino acids are normally regulated in our bodies,” Shin said. “Branched-chain amino acids, also known as BCAA, are called essential amino acids because we do not produce them in our body and therefore have to consume them in our food source.”
Shin said that for several years, studies have shown that BCAA levels in the blood are higher in obese or diabetic people. There is a link between BCAA and diabetes and many believe that BCAA is involved in the development of diabetes and obesity.
“Follow-up studies from other people have shown that not only are they associated, but when you add BCAA to your diet that it can lead to abnormal glucose levels,” Shin said. “They can also cause high glucose levels, which can lead to diabetes.”
Shin said these studies motivated him to dig deeper with his own studies.
Recently, Shin’s studies found that there is a certain type of neurons in the brain called AgRP neurons. Shin’s studies have found that these neurons are responsible for regulating BCAA levels, Shin said.
“Before, we only knew BCAA was linked to obesity and diabetes, but we didn’t know how it was regulated,” Shin said.
Shin now said that they have identified the neurons that are responsible for regulating BCAA. The next step would be to find out what part of this path went wrong in obese individuals and type 2 diabetics.
“We’re deciphering the roadmap for how BCAA is controlled,” said Shin. “Once we know how BCAA is normally controlled, we can examine obese and diabetic people and see exactly what went wrong. Once we find out, these can be used as therapeutic targets for drug development.”
Shin hopes his studies will lead to the development of pharmaceutical pills that target specific areas to help lower BCAA levels.
So far, the study has mainly focused on type 2 diabetics, but Shin said they are trying to investigate how this affects type 1 diabetics.
Shin said they are also studying the relationship between type 2 diabetics and Alzheimer’s disease.
“If you’re diabetic, you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s,” Shin said. “It works the other way round, if you have Alzheimer’s you are more likely to develop diabetes.”
Shin said there are similar abnormal features in the brains of diabetics and people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Shannon Galyean, assistant professor in the tech’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, explained what the general difference is between type 1 and type 2 diabetics.
“Usually children and teenagers are the typical patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” Galyean said. “It’s most often caused by an autoimmune disease or something genetic that damages the cells in the pancreas that make insulin.”
Galyean said it isn’t a lifestyle that is causing the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults and is caused either by not making enough insulin or by the insulin not working as well,” Galyean said. “The pancreas was working properly, but because of the increased amount of fat in the body, the insulin or the pancreas aren’t working so well, so blood sugar becomes high.”
Galyean said that type 2 diabetes is most often due to lifestyle factors. However, genetics can play a role. If someone has a family history of type 2 diabetes, they may develop type 2 diabetes more easily.
Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle, Galyean said.
Allison Childress, assistant professor in the tech’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, spoke about what is recommended for people with type 2 diabetes as it is possible to put type 2 diabetes into remission.
“If someone has type 2 diabetes, it is recommended that they exercise or be physically active at least three times a week,” Childress said. “Depending on where you are, the diet treatment will be different.”
Childress said the first thing nutritionists will do when they have a type 2 diabetic is educate the patient about carbohydrates, the serving size of carbohydrates, and the carbohydrates people should try to avoid.
Typically, type 2 diabetics are put on a carbohydrate prescription. This is a determination of how many grams of carbohydrates the patient needs in a day, Childress said.
“Lots of patients want to go on the keto diet,” said Childress. “Would I recommend it? No, but can I work with it? And can I help design a person with type 2 diabetes? Yes.”
Childress often said that if the keto diet is something that a patient can stick with and help with weight loss, then this is an option.