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Oxygen deprivation may help type 2 diabetes sufferers, Westminster research shows

7 July 2010

Oxygen deprivation techniques used to help athletes compete at altitude may offer a new form of treatment for sufferers of type 2 diabetes, researchers at the University have shown.

A University team, collaborating with the University of Brighton, found that inducing hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, improves the body’s ability to sense insulin and improve glucose tolerance in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

The findings were announced last week at the annual conference of the Physiological Society.

Latest estimates are that there are now more than a million Britons with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, which is twice as many as previously thought. Diabetics are at greater risk of a range of conditions including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.

The Westminster research, carried out at the University’s Human Performance Laboratory, saw a team led by Dr Richard MacKenzie examine the effects of acute hypoxia on insulin sensitivity.

Type 2 diabetes individuals were studied to determine the effects of acute hypoxic exposure on the body's ability to secrete and respond to insulin - two parameters that contribute to elevated blood glucose in this metabolic condition.

Dr MacKenzie said: “This study demonstrated that hypoxia has the ability to increase insulin-stimulated glucose disposal. There were marked hypoxic-induced improvements in glucose tolerance in the four-hour period following exposure in our oxygen environment.

“These findings may suggest a possible use for hypoxia in the clinical treatment of type 2 diabetes.”

The charity Diabetes UK last week released new analysis suggesting that there could be as many as 1.1million people in the UK with type 2 diabetes.

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