NEW hope in the battle against diabetes has emerged with a simple blood test that could identify healthy people at risk from the killer disease.
The new check would hand those most likely to develop the condition years of advance warning, rx giving them the chance to change their lifestyles.
It could also identify people who, although overweight, are not in any danger from the illness.
Dr Wei Jia of the University of Hawaii, who led the research, said: “Currently there are no clinical tests that tell you the likelihood of developing diabetes.
“To know if you are likely to get it in a few years is an important discovery. People can hopefully get tested for the disease during physical exams in the future.”
It is conventionally assumed, he said, that if people are obese they are at risk of being pre-diabetic – with glucose levels higher than normal.
“However, sometimes people who are obese can still be healthy. If people know they are specifically pre-diabetic they can have a more targeted way of treating it.”
Dr Jia’s research team developed a way of identifying a range of unsaturated fatty acid markers in blood that they believe may help predict the risk.
The same group of fatty acids could also point to conditions linked to diabetes such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Research findings, published in the EBioMedicine journal, showed that these can mark out someone who is pre-diabetic long before conventional ways of measuring the disease.
The fatty acids’ levels can change up to 10 years before the individuals are diagnosed.
That means those shown to be at risk could have a decade to change their lifestyles and diets in a bid to avoid the condition.
Experts believe Britain is heading for a major diabetes crisis with millions unaware they are at risk.
The lives of almost four million Britons are already blighted by diabetes but that figure is expected to rise to 6.25 million by 2035.
By then the cost to the economy is estimated to be £40billion.
Unlike Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease, Type 2 is largely driven by lifestyle and linked to obesity.
Those with a normal body mass index but a large waist – defined as 31d inches or more for women and 35 inches or more for men – are most at risk from Type 2 diabetes.
The condition increases the risk of developing other killer conditions like heart and kidney disease, strokes and blindness.
Diabetes is caused by problems with the hormone insulin, which mops up sugar from the blood.
Insulin is made in the pancreas.
In a healthy body, cells in the pancreas sense when sugar levels in the blood rise after we have eaten.
Obesity is associated with the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
However, it has been increasingly recognised that obesity is not necessarily dangerous and about 25 to 40 percent of obese individuals can actually remain healthy with no obvious signs of physical complications.
Dr Jia’s team conducted studies on four separate groups involving 452 people in the US and China over 10 years.
The study included putting some of the participants on specialised diets.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti, of the Leicester Diabetes Research Centre, said this latest American research was in its “early stages”.
He added: “In the UK we have led the way with this kind of research. Blood pressure, waistlines and body mass index are very good indicators of who is likely to develop diabetes.”
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