Are Both Types of Diabetes An Autoimmune Disease?
It is a well-known fact that diabetes is a growing problem in the United States, mostly caused by the rise in overweight and obese Americans.
There are two types of diabetes—Type 1 and Type 2—and recent studies released by researchers at Stanford University reveal that both may be an autoimmune disease.
An autoimmune disease refers to a group of chronic illnesses that involve almost every organ in the human body. In many of these diseases, including diabetes, the body’s immune system can become misdirected, attacking the very organs it was designed to protect.
Type 2 diabetes like Type 1 may be an autoimmune disease, but these same studies are also revealing that the immune system’s target cells are different.
“Diabetes is a disease that mostly strikes during adulthood,” says Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., a board certified physician in the field of weight loss, and the founding physician behind BistroMD. “The disease affects an estimated 27 million Americans today, and is marked by the growing inability of cells to respond to insulin in the bloodstream.”
Surprisingly, not every person who is overweight or obese suffers from diabetes. This fact has stumped researchers for years.
So, what exactly does this study on the different types of diabetes mean? How accurate is this information? BistroMD’s founding physician explains the science behind this study, and what it means for diabetes sufferers.
Does Fat Loss Trigger an Autoimmune Reaction?
“Autoimmune means that the body’s own white blood cells begin to attack its own body tissues,” says Dr. Cederquist. “When this happens, the body perceives ‘itself’ as a threat.”
When it comes to both types of diabetes, researchers conducted a study using lab mice to explore the possibility that the condition could be an autoimmune disease. Researchers also wanted to see if fat loss actually triggered this reaction within the body.
In this study, the research team focused on B cells, which are the lymphocytes (white blood cells), that manufacture antibodies against foreign invaders.
To test their theory, the team genetically engineered the mice so they could not produce B cells. With this change in their biology, these particular mice never developed diabetes, no matter how overweight they became.
To compare, the researchers then studied two more groups of mice. For the first group, researchers took normal mice that were prone to becoming diabetic and treated them with a drug called anti-CD20. This binds to B cells and blocks their activity. The second group of mice didn’t receive any type of treatment at all.
Surprisingly, the first group of mice that received treatment didn’t become diabetic, no matter how overweight they became. The second group of mice that didn’t receive the drug did in fact develop diabetes.
“Fat is inflammatory,” says Dr. Cederquist. “Fat cells and tissues release chemicals called adipocytokines, which cause swelling and inflammation in the body tissues. Chronic inflammation is definitely linked to autoimmune disease development, though the pathology of this is unclear.”
Even though the mice’s immune systems were essentially shut-off and they did not develop diabetes, they were still at a higher risk of developing other infections.
Is This Study Accurate?
When it comes to types of diabetes, there is still no conclusive evidence from this study that proves Type 2 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, like Type 1.
“The idea that Type 2 diabetes is only related to sugar and insulin is somewhat narrow,” says Dr. Cederquist. “It is very likely that this study could be the beginning of a different form of treatment for diabetes, however, it still doesn’t prove that Type 2 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This may not be proven conclusively, but I have been suspicious of this myself, and recent studies like this are starting to prove my suspicions true.”
The results of this study about the different types of diabetes is very exciting, and if proven, could be a great treatment for sufferers in the future. Still, the best way to maintain your immune system and to cope with your diabetes is to maintain a healthy diet.
“To help prevent the development of diabetes, making sure that your body’s immune system is strong by giving it a variety of balanced foods will go a long way,” says Dr. Cederquist. “Balanced foods will benefit your health in many other areas too. You can empower your immune system greatly by losing weight, eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as making sure you get plenty of sleep and regular exercise.”
To see more informative articles from BistroMD’s team of experts, visit our healthy facts section for more information.
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