Study Finds Warning Signs of Diabetes Can Show Up in Just a Few Days

Study subjects became resistant to insulin after several days.

September 9, 2015, 3:26 PM
PHOTO: Scientists were surprised to find early signs of diabetes can appear in just a few days.
Scientists were surprised to find early signs of diabetes can appear in just a few days.
Getty Images

— -- With nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population fighting diabetes, researchers are learning more about how quickly a person can start to exhibit the warning signs of Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers based at Temple University in Philadelphia have discovered it’s possible to develop troubling signs that could lead to diabetes after just a few days of a high-calorie diet. The small study was aimed at finding out how the body reacts when a healthy person starts to overeat.

Six male subjects were put on bed rest and fed a daily high-carb, 6,000 calorie diet and then studied to see how their bodies reacted.

The scientists looked for specific markers to see how the high-calorie diet was affecting biological processes in the body of the subjects. They found that those on the high-calorie diet developed insulin resistance, where the body's insulin does not work as well and the pancreas has to crank up insulin production.

It can lead to Type 2 diabetes and other health problems down the line.

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high blood-sugar levels caused by either a lack of insulin or the body's inefficient use of insulin. It usually strikes middle-aged or older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

They also found that the high-calorie diet affected the subjects’ cells as the mitochonrdia in the cell were unable to handle the high number of calories and started to release chemicals that can be harmful, a process called oxidative stress.

“Mitochondria are energy engines and when they’re flooded with calories they become leaky and release [chemicals] and cause oxidative stress,” Dr. Kevin Niswender, associated professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, explained to ABC News.

Niswender said the high number of subjects undergoing oxidative stress was worrying because it can lead to inflammation and other problems down the line.

Dr. Guenther Boden, the lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine, said it’s possible that the oxidative stress affects certain proteins that can lead to insulin resistance and that they are studying that data now.

“These changes produced by overeating, we have not [yet] shown that it made the molecules dysfunctional,” leading to insulin resistance, Boden said. ”We’re working on that.”

Boden said it’s key to understand how the body immediately reacts to large changes in diet and exercise.

“We know things go wrong in the end, when you look at end of obesity,” he said, explaining they wanted to know what goes wrong in the beginning.

Dr. Naveen Uli, an endocrinologist and co-director of the Healthy Kids and Healthy Weight Program at the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said while much more research was needed, the study was an interesting way to look at obesity and diabetes.

"Whether this study will lead to medication or specific intervention is still in question," Uli said. "The next step would be to apply to it a larger group and see if this is true of other populations as well."

He said he believed Americans were becoming much more serious about coping with diabetes and trying to avoid the condition.

“There is much more awareness now than, say, 10 years ago and I think people are demanding more from chain restaurants, not just calorie counts but also trans fats and sodium [information,]” Uli said. “We’re at the stage where people are more aware, but I think that awareness needs to transfer into action.”

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events