The Most Groundbreaking Diabetes Research of 2017

The tools, technology, and knowledge that came out this year, poised to help the 30 million Americans who have diabetes

A program that prevents the disease

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This condition—in which blood glucose levels are too high, impairing insulin function—is growing at epidemic proportions. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out, one in three U.S. adults are expected to have diabetes by 2050, and 84 million adults currently have prediabetes (where blood sugars are higher than normal). One game-changing piece of diabetes news in 2017: An expansion to the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program. The six-month group-based classroom program trains people in diet, exercise, and weight control habits with an ultimate goal of helping people lose at least five percent of their body weight, a number that's been shown to prevent prediabetes from becoming full-blown type 2. (If you're looking for a step-by-step program to reverse type 2 diabetes, check out this plan.) "The fact that Medicare has recognized this is important. We're hoping we'll see a change in these numbers with fewer people developing diabetes," says Joanne Rinker, RD, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE). The other facts about type 2 diabetes might surprise you.

It's about your genes too

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Lifestyle factors, like poor diet or lack of exercise, can certainly drive up your risk for type 2. But your genes play a huge role too—and that may one day lead to more targeted treatment. "There's a growing understanding that type 2 diabetes is not all your fault. The genetic links are strong," says Louis Philipson, MD, PhD, director of the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago. Your genetics can impact how your body utilizes blood sugar, maintains your weight, and affects your metabolism and appetite, he says. Here are some more things people with diabetes wish the general public understood.

For example, one 2017 study looked at the genomic sequence on more than 250,000 people. The researchers identified 16 new genetic variations involved in type 2, per Nature Genetics. Some of these also had ties to cardiovascular disease. "Identifying these gene variants linked to both type 2 diabetes and CHD risk in principle opens up opportunities to lower the risk of both outcomes with a single drug," study co-senior author Danish Saleheen, PhD, an assistant professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology said in a press release.

Type 2 diabetes may be reversible

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Want to know how to reverse diabetes? Watch your weight. While it's known as a chronic, lifelong condition, new research from BMJ suggests that you may be able to put type 2 in remission. As Reader's Digest reported on the analysis, many people with the disease who followed a calorie-restricted diet and lost at least 33 pounds no longer met the clinical definitions for diabetes anymore. "Patients and doctors may be unaware that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, despite recent publicity," the authors write. If you're looking for a step-by-step program to reverse type 2 diabetes, check out this plan.

Insulin pumps are improving

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In the past, insulin pumps would dole out a slow rate of insulin every hour for patients with type 1 diabetes (where the body doesn't produce insulin), but new pumps integrate with an electric monitor to adjust the dose based on your blood sugar level, simplifying at-home care. One example: the Medtronic MiniMed 670G. This hybrid closed loop pump was FDA-approved in the latter half of 2016, "allowing for patient to start using it this year," says Liana Billings, MD, Director of the Personalized Medicine in Diabetes Consultation Clinic at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Are you aware of the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

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Diabetes is linked to cancer

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How's this for a scary statistic: Nearly 800,000 new cases of cancer are attributed to type 2 diabetes and having a high BMI, per research this year in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. (The study looked at cancers from 2012.) While there are other common causes of cancer, the researchers say that diabetes was to blame for one-quarter of liver cancers and nearly four out of 10 cases of endometrial cancers. High insulin and blood sugar levels, as well as chronic inflammation may be one common underpinning of these conditions.

Glucose monitoring just got better

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Imagine fewer finger pricks to take your blood sugar. That day is here, thanks to Dexcom's Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM). Their G5 mobile app for Android was FDA-approved in July 2017, which allows you to stay on top of your blood sugar continuously. CGM takes a reading every five minutes to gain insight on how your glucose levels are trending. "You only need to check your blood sugar twice a day to calibrate the machine. It substantially decreased the number of finger sticks for patients with diabetes, which takes so much of the burden away," says Billings. "In a trial that we were involved in (DIAMOND), we found that CGM can help improve blood sugar control. After adding this CGM to the patients' treatment regimen, both patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes saw significant lowering of their hemoglobin A1c (a measure of someone's average blood glucose over three months)," she adds.

 

Your diet plays an even bigger role than you thought

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You knew that watching your intake of refined carbohydrates and simple sugars was key in managing diabetes. You should also know that the impact of your diet goes beyond carbohydrates. New research from Diabetologia found that an antioxidant-rich diet also counts. Women who consumed diets with the highest levels of antioxidants lowered their risk of type 2 by as much as 27 percent. The study authors note that previous research suggested that specific antioxidants (like lycopene) could impact those odds, but they now know that it's an antioxidant-rich diet in general that makes the difference. Don't miss these 8 sneaky things that raise your blood sugar levels.

You can also opt to wear a glucose sensor

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You may choose to not finger prick at all. In September, the FDA approved the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System, a sensor that you wear on your arm. Along with a hand-held reader, the sensor allows you to check your blood glucose levels painlessly. It can be worn for up to 10 days (even in the shower) and functions under clothing. A 2017 study in Diabetes Therapy found that the device was safe and effective, reduced the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and boosted patients' quality of life.

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Recognize your role

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Technology like glucose sensors and monitors and apps are all designed to help a patient better manage their care at-home. (Here are some simple tricks to living well with diabetes.) "A person with diabetes can be overwhelmed because they have to self-manage their disease," says Rinker. That's why the new National Standards for Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support, drawn up in collaboration with the AADE and the American Diabetes Association, is so important. These are updated every five years—most recently in 2017. The AADE calls the patient "the center of the health care team," since most patients visit their doctor just four times a year, they note in a press release. This shift in thought will help better equip patients to take an active role in monitoring and controlling the disease—and that can go a long way.

Medications are now heart smart

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There's a growing focus on how diabetes and cardiovascular disease are tightly linked. In fact, adults with diabetes are up to four times more likely to die from heart disease compared to healthy adults, reports the American Heart Association. New trials are designed to check diabetes medications to ensure that they don't increase cardio risk, and the results are exciting: Some are even good for your ticker. "This knowledge will shift the paradigm on how we treat diabetes," says Billings. One medication that recently passed muster: Victoza. This year, the FDA approved the medication to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events, heart attack, and stroke in adults with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In December 2016, another drug, Jardiance, was approved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death in those with type 2.

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