Blood biomarkers prove pivotal role of food for diabetes risk

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14 Sep 2017 --- Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology and Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have found that several diet and nutrient biomarkers – molecules that can be measured in blood that are related to diet – are linked with both risk to have Type 2 diabetes and future risk of developing diabetes.

The researchers’ study, published in the leading nutrition research journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was carried out on 600 women from Gothenburg. Dietary biomarkers were measured in plasma from 64-year-old Swedish women with different glucose tolerance statuses – normal glucose tolerance, impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes. The biomarkers were then measured again after five years.

The results underline that diet is an important factor when it comes to risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Fish, whole grains, vegetable oils and good vitamin E status were found to be protective against Type 2 diabetes, while red meat and saturated fat increased the risk for developing the disease.

“What is really important is that we were able to reach these conclusions without having any additional information on diet from the subjects,” says lead author Doctor Otto Savolainen, who works at the Division of Food and Nutrition Science and the Chalmers Mass Spectrometry Infrastructure at Chalmers University of Technology.

The blood samples were analyzed at Chalmers, where a unique metabolic fingerprint, including many different diet biomarkers, could be linked to each woman at the specific time the sample was taken. Using this method it was possible for the first time to objectively determine the impact of key dietary components on future Type 2 diabetes risk, as well as to find differences in dietary patterns between women with and without Type 2 diabetes.

“Collecting information about diet can be complicated and time-consuming and is always biased by what people remember and think they should report,” says Associate Professor Alastair Ross, the responsible senior researcher at Chalmers, at the Division of Food and Nutrition Science. “Dietary biomarkers don’t have this problem, and highlight that dietary recommendations to avoid red meat and saturated fat and increase intake of plant-based oils and whole grains do seem to hold true, at least in this group of women.”

“The new method has allowed us to measure several markers of diet and nutrient status at the same time in a large number of people, which we believe is the first time this has been done,” Ross adds.

Although the role of diet is often discussed as a preventative measure for developing Type 2 diabetes, this new research provides strong support for dietary guidelines and underlines the importance of changing diet to improve health, according to the Chalmers University of Technology press release.

“New methods such as ours will help to improve how we measure diet and understand in more detail how dietary patterns relate to disease,” says Ross.

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