People with a genetic alteration that means they are at higher risk for the development of type 2 diabetes could benefit from supplementation with beta-carotene, according to new data published in Human Genetics.
Led by, Dr Atul Butte from the Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, the research team found that both beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol interact with a gene known as SLC30A4 to influence diabetes risk, albeit in opposite directions.
"Type-2 diabetes affects about 15% of the world's population, and the numbers are increasing," said Butte.
"This vitamin [beta-carotene] was already known as being 'good' with respect to type-2 diabetes, so it was no surprise that we saw it, too," Butte added. "But it was reassuring, as it suggested we were doing things right, and interesting to find it paired with SLC30A4."
The findings point the way to further experiments that could establish whether beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol are, respectively, protective and harmful themselves, or merely ‘markers’ whose blood levels dovetail the presence or absence of some other substance, process or defect that is a true causal factor, said the research team.
Butte said his lab is now gearing up to perform studies in which purified beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol will be fed to lab mice. Such studies may show whether the compounds themselves are critical to preventing or accelerating the onset of type-2 diabetes, or whether they are in fact merely markers for other processes, said Butte.