To many of us, sugar and sweets are delicious and irresistible. That is one of the main problems. You see, because it is so addictive, we find it hard to limit the amount we consume and often find ourselves eating and drinking too much. As you probably know, too much sugar has been heavily linked with the rising number of cases of Type-2 Diabetes being reported all over the world. We sadly live in a world where convenience and cost seem to be favored over people’s health and well-being, which is why Type-2 Diabetes is now considered an epidemic by health officials worldwide. While research into the correlation between high sugar intakes and diabetes is still ongoing, we still have plenty of proven evidence to go on. For today’s topic, we are going to take a look at how and why eating too much sugar can result in Type-2 Diabetes.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a special hormone made by pancreatic beta cells. It is created to allow us to use glucose (sugar) from the carbohydrates that we consume. We use glucose as a primary source of energy. The problem is that sugar is unable to pass directly from the bloodstream into your cells. After eating foods containing carbohydrates or simple sugars, your blood sugar levels will begin to rise. Cells in the pancreas known as beta cells, notice this and tell the pancreas it needs to produce and secrete insulin. But why? The reason is because insulin is able to attach to and send a signal to your cells, telling them to absorb the sugar and use it for energy. Basically, insulin is a key, which unlocks the doors to the cells, allowing the sugar to enter and be used as fuel.
What if we have too much sugar?
If you eat something sweet or drink a beverage packed full of sugar, you will have more sugar in your system than you need. This sugar has to go somewhere, so what happens? Well, not wanting to waste all of this potential future energy, the body holds onto it. Insulin helps to stockpile this excess sugar in the liver so that it can be secreted when your blood sugar levels drop. The problem is that too much sugar means that the pancreas is constantly having to work around the clock to synthesize and secrete the insulin, and eventually, two things may happen. In one instance, the pancreas may be exhausted and become damaged from being overworked. In this case, it may no longer be able to produce insulin, or if it does, the amounts it produces may not be enough. The second possibility is that the body becomes so used to having all this excess insulin floating around, that it simply builds up a resistance to it. Insulin resistance basically means that the insulin is no longer able to do its job well and help regulate blood glucose levels. This is where Type-2 Diabetes becomes a possibility.
How is insulin synthesized?
Before we can look at how sugar intake is linked to diabetes, the first thing we need to do is find out how insulin is synthesized. To begin with, insulin is synthesized as its precursor, a hormone known as preproinsulin. Preproinsulin is then processed by the body, where it is converted into proinsulin, located in the Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER). Proinsulin then needs to fold into a specific structure within the ER before it can make its way down to the secretory pathway, which is where it will acquire its specific function. The problem is that proinsulin is prone to misfolding. In fact, 20% of proinsulin misfolds even under normal physiological condition. Once this happens, if not expelled from the body, misfolded proinsulin can form accumulations and plaque build-ups within the ER.
Endoplasmic Reticulum stress is a very important factor when it comes to Type-2 Diabetes. It is often the result of misfolded proinsulin accumulation which subsequently kills beta cells. Not only that, but it has also been found to prevent the secretion of healthy insulin and promote oxidative stress and inflammation. Sadly, even when your blood sugar is later brought down, the ER stress that resulted from your diet cannot be relieved by your insulin or medication. Once this occurs, it doesn’t take long for beta cells located within the pancreas to begin dying off. Once they die, they cannot be brought back to life, and as you now know, if there are no beta cells, there can be no insulin.
So, what can be done to tackle the issues listed above? Well, Endoplasmic Reticulum-Associated Degradation, also known as ERAD, could be the answer. ERAD is a natural physiological process whereby misfolded proinsulin in the ER is removed. Therefore, the more efficient the levels of ERAD are, the less damage is done to the pancreatic beta cells, and therefore the lower your risk of Type-2 Diabetes will become.
Impaired ERAD function
As beneficial as ERAD is, the main downside is the fact that sometimes, ERAD function can be insufficient. Sometimes genetics can be a factor, in which case some people may find that they do not have healthy rates of ERAD. Consuming sugary and/or starchy foods, however, has also been very heavily linked to exhausted ERAD function. You see, the more carbs and sugars you consume, the greater the demand for insulin becomes. As the capacity of the ER to fold proinsulin is genetically predetermined, inadequately increased production of proinsulin will result in more misfolded proinsulin, which will demand more ERAD function. This can result in an accumulation of proinsulin within the ER. In the event of insulin resistance, again, this does mean more insulin is needed, so higher levels of misfolded proinsulin will be found within the ER. As you can see from the above, the demand for insulin to help deal with sugars, carbohydrates, and starches, can result in insufficient ERAD function. If excess misfolded proinsulin is unable to be removed via ERAD, this will result in beta cell death. To make matters worse, the more beta cells that die, the harder the living beta cells will have to work to compensate for the difference, and consequently, they die at an accelerated rate.
What should we do?
As far as managing and preventing diabetes goes, nothing is more important or beneficial than leading a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle means constantly eating sensible and healthy amounts of carbohydrates and exercising. Since less insulin will be required, less misfolded proinsulin will need to be removed, and less misfolded proinsulin will be around to accumulate within the ER. In the event that a healthy lifestyle is not enough, or if you simply act too late, however, enhancing ERAD function is a very promising alternative.