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What Is the Connection Between Leptin and Diabetes?

It is very important for diabetics to monitor their glucose levels.
Leptin helps the hypothalamus determine a person's level of hunger.
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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2014
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Preliminary studies on mice have shown that small amounts of the hormone leptin can manage the activities of the insulin-like growth factor–binding protein-2 (IGFBP2) gene in the liver. Many experts consider this important, because for decades medical professionals have believed that the only treatment for diabetes is insulin. Various pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers for some diabetes foundations are exploring the link between leptin and diabetes in hopes of finding a treatment for insulin-resistant patients.

In 1994, Dr. Jeffery Friedman discovered leptin. His research revealed that the hormone, which is generated by fat cells, helps the hypothalamus of the brain determine a person's degree of hunger. Other studies showed that leptin treatments in mice helped to correct high blood sugar and poor insulin levels.

Scientists linked diabetes and insulin deficiency in 1921. The focus has largely been on insulin as the treatment for diabetes ever since. The discovery of leptin and its effect on the IGFBP2 gene has opened up new avenues of research, however.

The first study of leptin's effect on mice genetically altered the mice. Scientists had engineered the mice to have a deficiency of leptin. Many experts consider this important because they argue that most diabetics have normal levels of leptin. Most medical professionals do not know what effect too much leptin would have on a person. As of 2011, pharmaceutical companies are studying how to use leptin in people who have normal levels of the hormone.

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Some of the questions that researchers hope to resolve about leptin and diabetes include how to deliver the hormone into the patient's system. One research team is testing a pump delivery method, a technique scientists used on mice. Other concerns include the fact that mice have different eating patterns than humans and that leptin may make it harder for diabetics to recognize low blood sugar episodes. Medical professionals also are interested in how the leptin-based treatments will affect the other functions in which leptin is involved, such as appetite and menstrual cycles.

The different eating patterns of mice and people have some medical researchers concerned about leptin and diabetes treatments. Mice graze on slow-digesting foods throughout the day, whereas people tend to eat larger meals less frequently. People also often choose foods that are high in refined grains and sugars.

Some medical experts caution that extra leptin may affect the symptoms that diabetics use to recognize dropping blood sugar levels. It is very important for diabetics to monitor their glucose levels through personal observations of such things as dizziness levels. Many question whether the hormone will make it more difficult to raise a person's low blood sugar levels.

Another problem with a proposed leptin-based therapy is that many experts question whether it will help people with type 2 diabetes. Statistics show that 90 to 95 percent of diabetics have type 2. Pharmaceutical companies and other medical researchers are continuing to study leptin and diabetes, appetite suppression, and menstrual cycle complications.

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