Diabetes Risk Factors Appear Earlier in Women Than in Men

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Obviously, risk factors for Type 2 diabetes show up long before clinical diagnosis of the disease. For women, however, this risk can be detected much earlier than previously thought. 

Three newly identified risk factors show up early in the blood of women who eventually progress from non-diabetic to pre-diabetic status. These risk factors are:  markers of endothelial dysfunction (malfunction of cells lining the inner surfaces of blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis); low values of adiponectin (a beneficial hormone secreted by adipose tissue into the bloodstream); and higher than normal levels of breakdown and formation of blood clots.

When these factors become perceptible, that’s when the countdown to diabetes starts in women. In men, the markers were not associated with progression from normal to pre-diabetic status. Therefore, the countdown to diabetes starts earlier in women than in men.

The study followed 1,455 healthy subjects from 1996 to 2001, when they were all free of diabetes, pre-diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Between 2002 and 2004, they were re-examined. By that time, 52 women and 39 men had progressed to pre-diabetic status.  Looking back at their blood samples from the beginning of the study, it was found that women who had developed pre-diabetes had had the three risk factors in their blood, predicting their progression to pre-diabetes.

"Because these pre-diabetic markers are not routinely assessed, and because diabetes is strongly linked with coronary heart disease, the study may help explain why the decline in death rates for heart disease in diabetic women lags behind that of diabetic men," said lead author Richard Donahue, Ph.D., of the University of Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.  He suggested that women whose blood glucose increases over time, even if it doesn't reach diabetic levels, should be screened more intensively for cardiovascular disease.

Diabetes Care
University of Buffalo

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