Women May Get Diabetes Earlier Than Men

Women may show signs of diabetes far earlier than men, according to new research. The findings could lead to new diabetes screening procedures to help identify who is at greatest risk of developing the disease.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo studied newly identified risk factors for type 2 diabetes, a disease of metabolism in which the body produces insufficient amounts or fails to use insulin, the hormone needed for cells to process glucose. This leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, eye and kidney diseases and other chronic illnesses.

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 20.8 million Americans—7 percent of the population—had diabetes in 2005, 6.2 million of them undiagnosed. Of the diabetic population, an estimated 90 to 95 percent had the most common form of the disease, type 2 diabetes. In addition, government estimates indicate that at least 43 million Americans have prediabetes, a condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are high but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Recent research has shown that levels of chronic sub-acute inflammation, blood clotting factors and dysfunction in the cells lining the inside of arteries may be indicators of diabetes risk factors when tested in the blood.

The Buffalo researchers looked at 1,455 healthy men and women who participated in the Western New York Study between 1996 and 2001. That study tracked alcohol consumption and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Participants were disease free with no indications of diabetes. They were tested and given physical examinations at the outset and during a six-year follow-up period. The researchers re-examined the participants between 2002 and 2004 and compared the new blood tests to results from 1996-2001.

The blood tests included fasting glucose and insulin levels, C-reactive protein, proinflammatory markers and markers for dysfunction of endothelial tissue lining blood vessels. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance produced by the liver that increases whenever there is inflammation in the body. CRP levels rise whenever there is an immune system response or activation. Women in the study had a higher incidence of prediabetes than men. Researchers could not explain why the differences occurred and said more studies are needed.

"Because these pre-diabetic markers are not routinely assessed and because diabetes is strongly linked with coronary heart disease, the study may help explain why the decline in death rates for heart disease in diabetic women lags behind that of diabetic men," lead author Dr. Richard Donahue said in a press release.

Donahue added: "Previous research had shown that hypertension and cholesterol were elevated among women who later developed diabetes. However, current findings that these novel risk factors [markers of endothelial dysfunction, chronic sub-acute inflammation and blood clotting factors] are elevated among women even earlier than previously recognized does suggest that the 'diabetic clock' starts ticking sooner for women than for men."

He suggested that women whose blood glucose levels increase over time should perhaps be screened more intensively for cardiovascular disease.

Copyright 2007 iVillage Total Health.

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