Imagine if diabetics and people with a prediabetic condition could take a daily pill to treat or prevent Type 2 diabetes. The scenario may not be too far-fetched, if recent experiments with glucose tolerance on mice translate effectively to humans. Scientists have discovered that a compound occurring naturally in the human body has the potential to restore normal blood sugar metabolism.
The mechanics of cell metabolism
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis restored normal blood sugar metabolism in diabetic mice using nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), an enzyme all cells in the body produce to utilize energy. In the journal Cell Metabolism, they describe how NMN triggers a chain reaction that results in a molecule called NAD that converts energy from nutrients into a form cells can burn. NAD also activates a protein called SIRT1 essential to healthy human metabolism. The authors said aging and eating a high-fat diet inhibit production of NMN, which slows the body’s production of NAD, eventually leading to metabolic conditions such as diabetes.
Reversing diabetes with NMN
Young, healthy mice in the study were put on a high-fat diet. The mice developed diabetes–and reduced NAD levels in six months or less. Straight NAD is toxic to the mice, so the researchers injected the mice with NMN. NAD levels dramatically increased, restoring glucose tolerance to normal in the female mice. Treatment with NMN also completely reversed and normalized the females’ cholesterol levels, triglycerides and free fatty acids. Glucose tolerance in the males improved, but not as dramatically. The researchers speculate that sex hormones, such as estrogen could also be a factor in NAD synthesis.
Glucose tolerance also improved in older diabetic mice following an injection of NMN. The researchers also injected older healthy mice and found that they weren’t adversely affected, which suggests that NMN can be used for prevention of Type 2 diabetes, as well as treatment.
No more insulin injections?
These findings should raise hope in Type 2 diabetics because the biological processes affected by restoring NMN levels to normal are nearly identical in mice and humans. The Washington University School of Medicine researchers are currently engaged in a long-term study of diabetic mice treated with NMN dissolved in their drinking water–the first step toward the development of a possible “nutriceutical” that Type 2 diabetics and prediabetics could take like a daily like a vitamin.
It would be wrong to assume that an NMN pill could be a substitute for a healthy diet low in sugar and fat. But as a supplement to healthy eating, perhaps NMN treatment could be the breakthrough that renders insulin injections obsolete.