Researchers have identified a molecule that could help prevent damage to cells caused by type 2 diabetes and obesity.
They say a large proportion of the damaging chemical changes that occur in the body’s cells due to the conditions might be avoided with a naturally occurring molecule.
In type 2 diabetes, when glucose stays in the blood it is not used as fuel for energy and can instead lead to the formation of toxic molecules.
Scientists at Nottingham Trent University looked at how this metabolic stress, resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of glucose and fat, damages proteins in the blood and cells and stops them from working properly.
They also examined the effect of carnosine, a molecule found in human skeletal tissue and consumed through meat and fish.
It can also be taken as a nutritional supplement.
Dr Mark Turner, a senior researcher in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said: “The regulation of blood glucose is vital for the human body to ensure that the energy requirements of vital organs are met.
“In patients with type 2 diabetes certain molecules become less effective and so can’t do their job properly when it comes to regulating glucose in the body.
“After identifying these molecules in patient groups, we wanted to see the role that carnosine could play in preventing these damaging changes.
“We found that carnosine is able to protect cells that are responsible for controlling blood sugar levels.
“This increases sensitivity to glucose and also results in greater insulin release.
“While further studies are required, this work has confirmed our hypothesis that carnosine could offer significant therapeutic potential against type 2 diabetes.”
Researchers identified proteins in patient blood samples damaged by raised levels of glucose and fatty acids.
They also looked at the extent to which carnosine was able to prevent similar damage in cells and tissues linked to the control of glucose.
According to the study, carnosine prevented 65-90% of these damaging chemical changes and protected the functional properties of affected cells.
The researchers say that despite the cells being compromised, carnosine was able to preserve cellular function by soaking up the toxic molecules.
While the team had previously shown the potential of carnosine in controlling blood sugar levels, they now understand exactly which proteins are damaged.
The study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine also involved King’s College London.