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Investigating Foods That May Help Forestall Type 2 Diabetes

By Marcia Wood
March 10, 2003

Findings from innovative laboratory studies by Agricultural Research Service scientists may add to the list of compounds in foods that help reduce the risk of a disorder known as insulin resistance. About 16 million Americans are insulin-resistant, meaning that they can't properly use insulin to get energy-rich glucose from their blood into their cells.

Cells need glucose, derived from foods, as a source of energy. Without glucose, cells can't do the specialized jobs that keep us alive. Insulin resistance often leads to type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes in the United States.

To pinpoint food compounds that could help forestall this kind of diabetes, the ARS scientists have developed insulin-resistant laboratory hamsters and are using them in novel experiments. Insulin resistance occurred in the lab animals within only a few weeks after the researchers put the hamsters on a high-fat regimen. That regimen was similar--in proportion--to the amount of fat that most Americans eat every day.

Now the researchers are determining which food components can protect the animals from becoming insulin-resistant. Postdoctoral research associate Qiming Shao and research chemist Wallace H. Yokoyama are conducting the studies at the ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif. Both scientists are with the Albany center's Processed Foods Research Unit.

Insulin-resistant laboratory animals aren't new. But the Albany researchers are likely the first to develop this condition in hamsters and rats simply by increasing the amount of fat that the animals ate.

Direct and indirect costs of diabetes are estimated to be at least $98 billion annually.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.