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Famine in Early Life Doubles the Risk of Diabetes in Later Life

Update Date: Mar 06, 2013 09:52 AM EST
Diabetes, Blood Sugar Levels
Researchers hope that their breathalyzer could replace the needle pricks for diabetics. (Photo : REUTERS/Radu Sigheti )

People who are born during famines are more likely to develop diabetes later in life compared to those not born during famines, according to a new study.

A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that people born during three major 20th century famines were significantly more likely to develop the metabolic disease compared to others born at different times.

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Professor Stefan Thurner and his team at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, analyzed a unique dataset of 8 million Austrians born between the years 1917 and 2007.  Researchers said that 325,000 people in the study were under treatment for diabetes in 2006 and 2007. 

Depending on the region, people had about twice the risk of developing diabetes if they were born during one of the three famines in Austria compared to others born in the surrounding years.  Researchers noted that the increased risk for diabetes was nearly nonexistent in people living in provinces of Austria that were less affected by the famines.

Researchers say that the significantly higher rates of diabetes for people born during times of famine highlights the importance of ensuring sufficient nutrition in prenatal and early stages of life.

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease is which a person has high blood sugar of blood glucose.  Blood sugar or glucose is essential to health because it's an important source of energy for cells that make up muscles and tissues.  Glucose is also the brain's main source of energy. 

However, diabetes patients have too much glucose in their blood and the excess blood sugar can lead to serious health problems. People with diabetes cannot have high blood sugar because either their pancreas does not make enough insulin or their cells do not respond to insulin normally or both.  

According to the National Institutes of Health, the best way to prevent diabetes is to maintain a healthy body weight and live an active lifestyle. 

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