The most common form of diabetes, type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM) accounts for over 90% of all diabetes globally according to the WHO. While there are genetic markers and certain viruses that can alter the risk of getting the disease if you have an unhealthy lifestyle. The best predictors of who will develop the disease are lifestyle factors. In the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program, patients in the lifestyle modification arm of the study were told to change five things. In the group that changed four out of five, there were no patients who progressed to diabetes, regardless of baseline genetics.
We are beginning to understand the genetic mechanisms that are involved in lifestyle-induced T2DM as well. Genes work by committee, with some genes more active than others, depending on the circumstances. This process is called epigenetics. It involves the silencing and un-silencing of certain genes due in part to how people live their lives and what they eat.
For a simple small example of this, let’s look at a single food ingredient and see if we can make a link to a non-genetic cause of T2DM.
Palm oil is present in at least “half of all packaged goods sold in modern supermarkets,” according to the World Wildlife Fund. It accounts for about 32% of all plant oil produced. Palm oil and palm kernel oil have on average more saturated fat than lard or beef tallow.
So experimenters in Lausanne, Switzerland took palmitic acid, the main component of palm oil and dripped it on some cells from the pancreas of rats that were being grown in culture. Those cells were specifically from the islet cells which make insulin. After three days they analyzed the changes in gene expression (micro-RNAs, abbreviated as miRNAs) from those cells and compared them to known miRNAs associated with T2DM. The changes were consistent with what we see in mice and humans with T2DM.
They also found that exposure to palmitic acid decreased the secretion of insulin and caused four times as many of the cells to commit suicide (a process called apoptosis) as happened in control cells.
So we have a population that is consuming huge amounts of palm oil. At the same time, there is an epidemic of T2DM going on globally, as palm oil has become the largest and most consumed oil on the planet. We know the mechanism by which this oil alters genes to create the circumstances that make T2DM much more common.
The only question left is what are you going to do about it? There are over 100 different names used to describe palm oil on packages. The most common is vegetable oil …