The Surprising New Reason Behind Rising Diabetes Rates

While the obesity epidemic is definitely driving cases of diabetes to historic highs, our changing climate is also to blame.

testingbloodbikeriderlondon/ShutterstockClimate change is already behind a surprising number of adverse environmental and health effects, including malaria and dengue fever, and new research suggests that it could also be at the center of climbing diabetes rates. But it has nothing to do with melting ice caps, rising sea levels, shrinking crop yields, and a surge in mosquito populations. Instead, it has to do with a type of fat we have in our body called brown fat.

For the study, published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, researchers from Leiden University Medical Center analyzed the number of diabetes diagnoses between 1993 and 2013 using data provided by the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, and discovered that with a rise in average temperature came an increase in the instances of diabetes. Data showed that as the annual temperature rose by 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the number of diabetes cases rose by 3.1 per 10,000 people.

One of the study’s researchers, Lisanne L. Blauw, BSc, of Leiden University Medical Center, told MedPage Today: “We were surprised by the magnitude of the effect size, as we calculated that a 1 degree Celsius rise in environmental temperature could account for more than 100,000 new diabetes cases per year in the U.S. alone.”

Researchers couldn’t explain exactly why the bump in temperature caused an increase in diabetes, but they believe that it could be due to a lack of brown adipose tissue (BAT), a natural fat the body relies on to keep warm in cooler temperatures. In warmer climates, BAT is not as necessary in the body, and its lack of activation could contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes.

“Our data is consistent with the hypothesis that a decrease in BAT activity with increasing environmental temperature may deteriorate glucose metabolism and increase the incidence of diabetes,” the study authors write.

Based on their findings in the United States, researchers then analyzed their data on a global scale and found similar results: As the temperature rose by 1 degree Celsius around the world, the number of diabetes cases rose by nearly 0.2% and obesity rates rose by 0.3%.

This study could be a positive step forward in further treatment and research for the more than 29 million Americans that the Center for Disease Control report have diabetes. The researchers plan to continue their studies further. Here’s one diet that can help you reverse and avoid diabetes risk factors.

“Since cold exposure may not be the optimal strategy to prevent and/or treat type 2 diabetes, we are currently exploring pharmacological strategies with drugs that mimic the beneficial effect of cold exposure,” Blauw said.

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