The Relationship Between Amino Acids & Diabetes
Diabetes, also referred to as diabetes mellitus, is one of the fastest growing disease epidemics across the world. As of 2012, global statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that 347 million people were suffering from diabetes and this figure is escalating1.
Diabetes can be a highly debilitating disease and lead to life threatening conditions. This chronic condition is closely associated with insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Diabetes occurs either when the body can’t use the insulin it produces effectively, or when the pancreas doesn’t manufacture enough insulin.
Diabetics struggle to process carbohydrates such as sugar. This problem is made even more difficult due to the fact that most patients have low insulin levels. Additionally, cells within the body can’t easily absorb what little insulin is available because the cell membranes don’t recognise this hormone. Consequently, the cells are unable to produce enough energy, and sugar can’t degrade efficiently within the blood. This leads to an elevated blood sugar level, also know as hyperglycaemia.
Left untreated, diabetes can seriously damage many systems within the body, particularly the blood vessels and nerves. Diabetics have an elevated risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and vision problems, amongst many other complications.
Diabetes is characterised by three types:
Accounting for around 10 percent of all cases of diabetes, type 1 is a form of diabetes where the body is unable to produce insulin. It is often referred to as insulin dependent diabetes, early-onset diabetes or juvenile diabetes. Usually patients develop type 1 diabetes as teenagers or young adults.
Although the cause of this particular form of diabetes is unknown, it can be managed through daily insulin injections. At this stage there is no cure.
Almost 90 percent of all diabetes cases are type 2. Characterised by the body’s inability to effectively use insulin, this type of diabetes is caused mainly by inactivity and excess body weight.
Amino Acids That Can Help Type 2 Diabetics
This is one of the most common amino acids in the human body. It’s manufactured within the intestinal-renal axis and is involved in cell division, expelling ammonia, hormone and blood pressure regulation, immune function, and healing wounds.
Over recent years, researchers have been investigating the relationship between R and insulin. Studies have shown that R can help to reduce insulin resistance and assist in increasing insulin sensitivity 2. In one particular study, R supplements were reported to enhance insulin sensitivity by over 30 percent in comparison with patients that didn’t take the supplement3.
Another notable effect of administering R to type 2 diabetics is a reduction in systolic blood pressure 4. These results suggest that this amino acid has an important role to play in reducing hypertension and subsequently lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and kidney diseases.
Not only does R help to increase insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure, it also appears to have a positive influence on weight loss. An Italian clinical trial administered 8.3g of G or a placebo daily to a group of type 2 diabetic patients participating in a 21 day exercise program and hypocaloric diet. Participants administered G lost significantly more weight when compared with the control group 5.
A quaternary ammonium cation (quat), LC is synthesised in the kidney and liver by the essential amino acids methionine and lysine. This quat is required to transport fatty acids in order to generate metabolic energy. Similar to G, LC has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity when consumed as a dietary supplement in the treatment of diabetes 6.
Other research has shown that LC can also lower cholesterol levels and protect cells from oxidative stress 7. This is particularly important for diabetics. Free radicals within the body trigger oxidative stress. This can impair cell membranes and other structures to promote cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. This isn’t good news for diabetics, as they are already at a greater risk of developing serious diseases. The free radical protection offered by LC can help to shield against some of the common long-term health problems facing many diabetics.
Preliminary research has also suggested that LC may play a vital role in reducing lipoprotein A within blood fat 8. In high concentrations, lipoprotein A can increase the risk of circulatory disorders and coronary heart disease.
To date, the research associated with LC indicates many protective properties. For diabetics, the benefits of LC may play a vital role in treating the disease and preventing the development of other life-threatening conditions.
Boosting the Body’s Availability of Arginine & Carnitine
To assist in the management of diabetes it’s important that the body has enough R and LC to fulfil all the necessary functions.
In the case of R, the body can manufacture this amino acid. However, concentrations can be supplemented through eating R-rich foods. Dairy products, pork, beef, poultry and seafood are all good animal protein sources. Vegetarians can also find sufficient quantities of R within nuts, chick peas, soybeans, granola, wheat germ, oatmeal and buckwheat.
Although the body synthesises its own LC, this quad can’t be formed without an adequate supply of the amino acids methionine and lysine. As these are both essential amino acids, it’s vital that your diet is rich in lysine and methionine in order to manufacture enough LC. Lysine rich foods include legumes, eggs, meat and certain fish (particularly sardines and cod). Methionine rich foods include sesame seeds, eggs, fish, meat, Brazil nuts and cereal grains. Combining legumes and cereal (such as beans and rice) is a great way to boost these amino acids within your diet.
How Amino Acid Profiles Can Signal a High Diabetes Risk
Not only can amino acids help in the treatment of diabetes, they may also play a key role in highlighting an individual’s risk of developing the disease.
Researchers investigating metabolic profiles have discovered that certain amino acid profiles can indicate the early onset of diabetes 9. During this particular study, the analysis identified an elevation in concentrations of five amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine, phenylalanine and tyrosine) associated with the early development of type 2 diabetes. More recent research has recognised that the three amino acids: isoleucine, phenylalanine and tyrosine, are particularly strong indicators of diabetes development 10.
With further research and clinical trials, these results could pave the way for a diabetes risk assessment screening process. This would give individuals an opportunity to take preventative measures and potentially stop the further development of this disease.
Diabetes is clearly a prolific modern disease and is closely linked to obesity and lack of regular exercise. Significant lifestyle changes are needed to reduce the incidence of diabetes related mortality. Understanding the relationship between certain amino acids and diabetes offers an opportunity to better manage this disease, and potentially prevent it.
It’s very important that diabetics are careful about their diet and vigilant when it comes to avoiding certain foods. For those individuals that already have type 2 diabetes, a diet rich in amino acids such as arginine, methionine and lysine may be very beneficial.
However, it’s essential that individuals with diabetes seek medical advice before taking amino acid supplements. Health professionals can help patients devise a suitable diet programme and exercise regime based on their personal needs. With the right approach, diabetics have an opportunity to effectively manage blood sugar levels, minimise the risks of developing other health problems, and potentially lead a long and healthy life.
- http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/index.html. Within the U.K. alone, over 3 million people have diabetes[1. http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v17/n4/full/nm0411-418.html ↩
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- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11347747 ↩
- http://www.jacn.org/content/21/5/422.full ↩
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16772327 ↩
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- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21423183 ↩
- http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/12/12/eurheartj.ehs424.abstract ↩