Type 2 diabetes clues can be seen as young as eight

There’s a marvellous study going on at Bristol University called Children of the 90s. As its title implies, it was set up in the early 1990s to track the health and ­development of Bristol children.

The hope was some early clues may emerge that would signal illnesses which might develop in later life and could be headed off.

The children were tracked at eight, 16, 18 and 25. At each visit blood samples were taken, examined and archived so at some future date they could be harvested for a research project the scientists were working on.

In one such project researchers examined around 4,000 samples and were able to identify patterns specific to the early stages of type 2 diabetes.

Using a scoring system scientists have discovered there are already signs from as young as eight years old of type 2 diabetes occurring in adult life.

One of the leading investigators, Dr Joshua Bell, explained: “We knew that diabetes doesn’t develop overnight.

“What we didn’t know is how early in life the first signs of disease activity become visible and what these early signs look like. We addressed these by looking at the effects of being more genetically prone to type 2 diabetes in adulthood on measures of metabolism taken across early life.

“This would not have been possible without the Children of the 90s study. Diabetes is most common in older age, but we see signs of disease ­susceptibility very early on – about 50 years before it’s usually diagnosed. Knowing what these early signs look like widens our window of opportunity to ­intervene much earlier and stop diabetes before it becomes harmful.”

In particular, certain types of HDL cholesterol (good) were reduced at age eight followed by raised levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Inflammation and amino acids were also elevated by 16 and 18 years old and these differences widened over time.

Dr Bell said: “We’re talking about the effects of susceptibility rather than of clinical disease itself. This does not mean that young people already have adult diabetes; these are subtle differences in the metabolism of young people who are more prone to developing it later in life.

“These findings help reveal the biology of how diabetes unfolds and what features may be targetable much earlier on to prevent the onset of the disease and its complications.

“This is important because we know that the harmful effects of blood glucose, such as on heart disease, are not exclusive to people with diagnosed diabetes, but extend to a smaller degree to much of the population.”