Insulin breakthrough could see end to needles

Updated 10 January 2013
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Insulin breakthrough could see end to needles

SYDNEY: Breakthrough research mapping how insulin works at a molecular level could lead to new diabetes treatments and end daily needle jabs, helping hundreds of millions of suffers, scientists said Thursday.
A joint US-Australian team said it has been able to lay out for the first time in atomic detail how the insulin hormone binds to the surface of cells, triggering the passage of glucose from the bloodstream to be stored as energy.
Lead researcher Mike Lawrence said the discovery, more than 20 years in the making and using powerful x-ray beams, would unlock new and more effective kinds of diabetes medication.
“Until now we have not been able to see how these molecules interact with cells,” said Lawrence, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne.
“We can now exploit this knowledge to design new insulin medications with improved properties, which is very exciting.”
Lawrence said the team’s study, published in the latest edition of Nature, had revealed a “molecular handshake” between the insulin and its receptor on the surface of cells.
“Both insulin and its receptor undergo rearrangement as they interact — a piece of insulin folds out and key pieces within the receptor move to engage the insulin hormone,” he said of the “unusual” binding method.
Understanding how insulin attaches to cells was key to developing “novel” treatments of diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use it properly.
“The generation of new types of insulin have been limited by our inability to see how insulin docks into its receptor in the body,” Lawrence said.
“This discovery could conceivably lead to new types of insulin that could be given in ways other than injection, or an insulin that has improved properties or longer activity so that it doesn’t need to be taken as often.”
Importantly, Lawrence said the discovery could also have ramifications for the treatment of diabetes in developing nations, allowing for the creation of more stable insulins that do not need refrigeration.
It could also have applications in the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s, with insulin playing a role in both diseases, he added.
“Our finding is a fundamental piece of science that ultimately might play across all three of those very serious diseases,” Lawrence told AFP.
The Australian Diabetes Council, a lobby group representing people with the condition, said the development was welcome news.
“While we do not currently have a cure for diabetes, discoveries such as this insulin docking breakthrough give us hope that it is coming ever closer,” said council chief Nicola Stokes.
Stokes said one Australian was diagnosed with diabetes every five minutes and its prevalence was growing by eight percent every year, making it the country’s fastest-growing chronic disease and biggest health issue.
There are an estimated 347 million diabetes sufferers worldwide and diagnoses are increasing, particularly in developing countries, due to growing levels of obesity and physical inactivity.
It is expected to be the seventh leading cause of death in the world by 2030, with the World Health Organization projecting total deaths from diabetes will rise by more than 50 percent in the next 10 years.
Complications of diabetes include heart disease, blindness, limb amputation and kidney failure.


Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018
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Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”

 

Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.

Decoder

Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.