Prediabetes: A Family Affair

Diabetes family history affects prediabetes risk in nonobese people says new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Stay slim and you will not be at risk for type 2 diabetes, even if your family members have the disease — right?

While this might be the common thought, a new German study may change the way people with diabetic family members think about the condition.

This study showed that having a close family member with type 2 diabetes increased the likelihood for prediabetes, which is known to be a strong predictor for developing the condition later.

The findings seemed strongest among people who were not obese themselves.

The research may shed light on how and why diabetes develops, and highlights the importance of understanding diseases in the family.

"Talk to your doctor about diseases in your family."

Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn't make insulin or doesn't use insulin properly, leading to high blood glucose (sugar) levels. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), in prediabetes, the blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be considered full diabetes.

While people with prediabetes have a higher risk of developing diabetes down the line, the ADA noted that this is not a guarantee that the condition will develop. "For some people with prediabetes, early treatment can actually return blood glucose levels to the normal range," says ADA.

In this new study, Robert Wagner, MD, of the German Center for Diabetes Research, and team looked at 8,106 non-diabetic people of European origin. The data used came from four different studies executed by partner organizations of the German Center for Diabetes Research. 

The researchers were attempting to understand if having one immediate relative (a parent, child or sibling) with type 2 diabetes made participants more likely to have prediabetes themselves. 

Dr. Wagner and team found that 5,482 of the study participants had normal glucose tolerance and 2,624 had one of several possible forms of prediabetes. This data was analyzed alongside information about diabetes in the participants' family and their weight, measured as body mass index (BMI). BMI is a ratio of height and weight, which is used to determine levels of healthy weight.

The researchers found that having a close family member with type 2 diabetes increased the risk of prediabetes by 40 percent. 

When researchers adjusted the data for age, sex and weight, the increased risk measured at 26 percent. The authors also observed that when adjusting the data, the association only seemed present in people who were not obese (obesity was considered a BMI of 30 or higher).

"Having others in your family with diabetes increases the chances of coming down with the disease.  Being overweight amplifies that risk.  We should all aim for an appropriate body weight and should minimize sweets, sugar, and desserts in our diet.  The pancreas can wear out from a variety of causes, resulting in diabetes.  Family history, obesity, and a high carbohydrate diet add to the stress on our pancreas," Dr. David Winter, Chief Clinical Officer, President, and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network, a division of the Baylor Health Care System, told dailyRx News.

"Our data suggest that family history of diabetes is associated with prediabetes in non-obese rather than in obese individuals," wrote Dr. Wagner and team. "This might indicate that the effect of family history of diabetes on prediabetes becomes readily measurable only when not overshadowed by strong risk factors such as obesity."

The study authors noted that this information may help in the understanding of how diabetes develops. More research needs to be done to understand this relationship more and to confirm these findings over a wider, more varied population.

The study was published on August 21 in the journal Diabetologia. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 21, 2013
Last Updated:
August 23, 2013