People whose ancestors were undernourished are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, was performed on rats over a period of 12 years.
50 generations of rats were underfed, and then two generations were fed a normal diet. At the same time, the control group had a normal diet for 52 generations.
The last two generations from the first group of rats had significantly higher levels of obesity, insulin resistance, higher blood pressure, and heart and liver damage. Moreover, their risk of type 2 diabetes was eight times higher than the control group.
“Whilst fed the same diet and calories as the group that were never undernourished, the newly well-fed rat population favoured increased fat storage obesity, increased risk of diabetes, and heart and liver damage,” said Anandwardhan Hardikar, lead author of the study.
The researchers also found a lack of Vitamin B12 in the underfed rats; a factor that has also been observed in humans.
“Further research in understanding gut microbes, which are major producers of Vitamin B12 in our body, and dietary supplementation with Vitamin B12 and other micronutrients, could reduce the risk of metabolic diseases in the coming generations.”
Over time, a lack of nourishment affects the genes, increasing susceptibility to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. These genetic changes can be inherited by future generations.
In realistic terms, the findings suggest that people living in less economically developed countries are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as immigration becomes more common, and processed, high-calorie food becomes cheaper and more readily available worldwide. India, for example, has traditionally relied on low-calorie, vegetarian diets.
The study was published in Cell Metabolism.

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