The American Diabetes Association reports an estimated 18 million Americans have diabetes, while just over 16 million (about 90%) have Type 2 diabetes. People with this type cope with insulin resistance — the inability of the body to use insulin properly in order to metabolize glucose, starches and sugars into energy. Sugar levels can become dangerously high in the blood and insulin resistance can also lead to cardiovascular disease. This disease is managed through diet and careful monitoring of the blood.
In most cases, the onset of Type 2 diabetes is brought on by excessive weight gain and lack of exercise. Children as well as adults are increasingly at risk due to sedentary lifestyles coupled with unhealthy eating habits. However, the causal link between excessive weight and Type 2 diabetes was unknown until Dr. Barbara B. Kahn of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center co-authored a study that revealed the missing link.
As reported in the scientific journal Nature on 21 July 2005, Kahn discovered that a naturally occurring protein molecule found in fat cells blocks insulin action. Retinol binding protein 4, or RBP4, is known for its positive role in helping cells take up Vitamin A. When present in high levels, however, RBP4 has the effect of inhibiting insulin from doing its job, setting up a condition conducive to diabetes.
It was already known that overweight people with Type 2 diabetes had elevated levels of RPB4, but the protein molecule was believed to be benign. Research revealed that the severity of insulin resistance was directly related to levels of RPB4. As RPB4 levels dropped, insulin action normalized accordingly.
Healthy diet and exercise has long been advised for prevention of Type 2 diabetes. In addition, Kahn's research may explain why many people that lose weight find their diabetes symptoms literally disappearing.
Despite Kahn's findings, the medical community does not consider weight loss a cure for Type 2 diabetes. If the weight returns, the condition will likely return. Moreover, people with genetic predispositions are affected by more than RPB4 levels alone. In fact, some people with this disease are not overweight at all. In these cases, RPB4 is not a factor.
However, for the majority of people suffering from Type 2 diabetes as a result of excess weight, weight loss can often eliminate the symptoms all together. It may also improve conditions for those with genetic predispositions, making the disease more manageable. Medications may be eliminated over time and overall health can improve. Maintaining a healthier lifestyle that includes mild exercise leads, in many cases, to a symptom-free life. Though the medical community won't call this a "cure" for good reason, those living symptom-free after coping with diabetes aren't likely to care about the technical difference.
People who are excessively overweight and live with Type 2 diabetes should consult a medical professional for an exercise program and diet regimen suited to meet their needs.