A new study says that a diet rich in fat could damage muscle health in pre-diabetic teenagers despite any problem in muscle function.
Researchers at McMaster University have reported that the health of young adult muscle declines during the pre-diabetic state, which is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but lower than during Type 2 diabetes.
They found that during this period significant impairments occur in the muscle, even though it appears to be functioning normally.
"Based on the way the muscles performed, you would think that they're still healthy. But the fact is the muscle is not healthy. It's undergone a lot of pathological changes," said Dr. Thomas Hawke, who led the study.
The team used mice to examine how a high-fat diet, leading to obesity, affected the form and function of skeletal muscle.
The researchers found that the high-fat diet resulted in insulin resistance, large increases in fat mass and weight gain, but it also led to initial adaptations in the muscle.
"What our results tell us is that, initially, skeletal muscle appears to respond positively to the high-fat diet. By changing the size or type of its muscle fibres, the muscle adapts to the high-fat diet by saying 'Let's burn more of this fuel,'" said Hawke.
"But with continued high-fat feeding, we're giving the muscle more fuel than it can handle. So, even though it has made these initial, positive changes, continued high-fat feeding is more than the muscle can cope with. That's when a downward spiral starts," he added.
They also found that not all muscles responded in the same way to obesity, as some adapted by changing their fibre type, while others altered the size of their fibres.
But, in all cases analyzed, a high-fat diet decreased the ability of skeletal muscle to use fat or glucose as fuel.
However, if the muscles were fatigued and then were required to work, the high-fat diet group didn't recover as quickly as the control group.
"What this suggests is that the muscle is trying to maintain function despite all the negative changes that have resulted. When we stress the muscle a bit though, such as fatiguing it, there are some hints toward functional impairment, but overall the muscle has coped well, functionally anyways," said Hawke.
The authors concluded that early therapeutic interventions in obese, pre-diabetic youth are needed prior to significant long-term effects on the growth and function of their muscles.
The study has been published in the scientific journal PLoS One.