Latinos at bigger risk for developing type 2 diabetes, says study

Sept. 11, 2012, 9:21 a.m.

An insulin syringe. Researchers found that Latinos are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes because their pancreas are more likely to store fat and they're less likely to be able to compensate by producing extra insulin. (Melissa P/Flickr Creative Commons)

Your ethnicity could have a lot to do with your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A new Cedars-Sinai study appearing in Diabetes Care on Tuesday says it all comes down to fat in the pancreas – and it looks like Latinos have the biggest risk.

In folks who are overweight, the tissue that stores fat often begins to malfunction, allowing fat to spill into places it shouldn't be: the liver, the skeletal muscle, the pancreas. When it spills into the pancreas, the organ becomes less able to produce insulin.

Insulin, a pancreas-produced hormone, is responsible for helping transport sugar out of the bloodstream and into the body's cells. Lisa Cederblom, the clinical director at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South L.A., says to think of it this way: Sugar is the car on the busy freeway of your bloodstream. In order to exit, you need an insulin off-ramp. Otherwise, you can never get to your home, the cell.

A fatty pancreas can attempt to compensate and produce more insulin, but sometimes that's not enough. When it's not enough, a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.

In this study, researchers said, Latinos – more than black and white people – tended to store more fat in the pancreas, and their pancreas' ability to compensate for a reduction in insulin production was "entirely suppressed."

That spells out a higher diabetes risk for Latinos, who comprise nearly 57 percent of the southside's population.

Cederblom said that as a primary care provider, the study's findings don't really change what St. John's does.

"It supports what we're already doing and our prevention efforts, given our population," she said.

She said providers at St. John's know that its patents "are at much higher risk than the average population," and they act upon that knowledge: Diabetes prevention begins with prenatal care, and goes all the way through pediatric well visits and adult lifestyle reviews.

"Anybody who's in primary care, their goal is to prevent the illness from happening in the first place," said Cederblom.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there are nearly 26 million people living with diabetes in the U.S.; nearly 14 percent of South L.A. is diabetic.

Type 2 diabetes is far and away more prevalent than type 1 or gestational diabetes – between 90 and 95 percent of cases of the disease are of the type 2 variety.

A clarification has been made to this article.

Photo by Melissa P via Flickr Creative Commons.

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