Chemical changes inside the body start occurring several years before a person begins to show the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, a new study has revealed.
University College London researchers, who led the study published in the journal The Lancet, say that specific changes in blood glucose levels and sensitivity to the hormone insulin occur inside a person years before he/she develops type 2 diabetes.
While presenting their findings at a meeting of the American Association of Diabetes, the researchers expressed hope that such changes could one day be used to help identify people at high risk of the disease earlier, meaning action can be taken to delay its progression.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body stops producing enough insulin for it to function properly, or when the body's cells do not react to insulin. This is called insulin resistance.
While the disease's symptoms can be controlled by healthy eating and monitoring blood glucose level, injections may eventually be required.
For their research, the University College London team followed 6,538 UK civil servants over almost 10 years, during which 505 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed.
They examined how the volunteers' blood glucose levels and the capacity of their tissues to respond to insulin changed over time, besides looking at how the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas functioned over time.
The team found changes in body chemistry to occur at a steady, even pace over time in in volunteers who did not develop diabetes.
However, patients who developed diabetes showed a rapid acceleration in both fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels starting three years before they were diagnosed with the condition.
Insulin sensitivity decreased steeply during the five years prior to diagnosis among the diabetic group. Their beta-cell function increased between years four and three prior to diagnosis, as their body tried to compensate for the raised glucose levels, but then decreased in the three years up to diagnosis.
The researchers hope that their findings will prove helpful in developing more accurate models to predict an individual's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
"Our model may help detect people at high risk to develop diabetes, so we can better target these people to prevent the development of the disease," the BBC quoted lead researcher Dr Adam Tabak said.
"We believe that an earlier intervention - before the conventional prediabetes stage - could delay diabetes development substantially," Dr. Tabak added.