Pumping Iron to Avoid Diabetes

Prediabetes risk lowered and insulin sensitivity improved by building muscle mass

July 29, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Building your muscles is not just about looking fit. Having a higher muscle mass may also help keep diabetes at bay.

The more muscle mass a person has, the less likely that person will have insulin resistance - which is one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes.

"Build up your muscles to lower your risk of diabetes."

Doctors and patients usually think about losing weight to lower their risk of diabetes, says Preethi Srikanthan, M.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles and senior author of a new study. Instead, she says, these findings show that weight loss is not the only option. Fitness and building muscle can also play a role in preventing diabetes.

"From a fitness perspective, I think that building muscle has a number of positive benefits associated with it, one of which is that muscle must be fed by protein in your diet," says James Crowell, a fitness expert. Usually when somebody adds protein to their diet, their percentage of protein vs carbs vs fat changes. If you add more protein into your diet percentage the amount of carbs, ie blood sugar, in your system wouldn't have as powerful of an insulin response. A lesser insulin response would help prevent the onset of diabetes for many individuals."

As obesity becomes more and more of a problem across the world, rates of diabetes are likely to increase. Insulin resistance is one of the main causes of diabetes. When someone becomes resistant to insulin - a hormone that regulates blood sugar - their blood sugar levels can get too high.

In the past, researchers have found that very low muscle mass is associated with a higher risk for insulin resistance. Until now, however, no one had looked at whether building muscle mass would help the body regulate blood sugar.

Dr. Srikanthan and colleagues studied the relationship between muscle mass and insulin resistance by looking at 13,644 people who were older than 20 years and not pregnant.

They found that a higher muscle mass is related to a better insulin sensitivity, meaning insulin could do its job of controlling blood sugar levels. A higher muscle mass was also associated with a lower risk of prediabetes and diabetes.

According to Dr. Srikanthan, these findings should be encouraging news for overweight patients who have trouble losing weight. This study - which is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism - shows that even if patients cannot lose weight, they can try to build up muscle. She says that any effort to get moving and stay fit should be seen as a healthy step in preventing diabetes.

Dr. Srikanthan concludes that more research is needed to see how much and long someone needs to exercise in order to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels.

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Review Date: 
July 28, 2011
Last Updated:
July 29, 2011