One of the most impressive feats of endurance in the animal world is performed by the sled dogs that run up to 100 miles per day in such races as Alaska’s Iditarod, a grueling 1,161-mile trek from Simpson to Homer.
Michael Davis, a professor at Oklahoma State University who has studied sled dogs for 10 years, says their incredible endurance may be the key to treating obesity in people who have either type 2 or pre-diabetes.
The key, says Davis, is understanding how the dogs achieve an incredibly high sensitivity to insulin-a sensitivity that allows them to metabolize glucose and fat.
In his research, Davis has experimented with measuring the insulin sensitivity of dogs who are in “Iditarod-ready” shape and dogs that have been inactive for several months. While his results show a dramatic difference in the metabolic proficiencies of the two groups-the “in-shape” dogs are very insulin-sensitive-he does not yet know why and how extreme exercise brings on such a high level of sensitivity.
The research holds out the hope that once the metabolic process for increasing insulin sensitivity is understood, it may be possible to induce it in type 2s who, because of obesity or handicap, are not able to exercise.
Davis’s work is funded by a $30,000 research grant from Oklahoma State University ($20,000) and the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation ($10,000).