Poor muscle health could be a complication of type 1 diabetes even among young, fit adults, according to researchers.
Scientists from Canadian universities McMaster and York identified changes within muscle could result in reduced metabolism and a greater struggle to control blood sugar levels.
Consequently the research teams now plan to investigate whether more intensive exercise could help to prevent muscle decline in both active and inactive individuals with type 1 diabetes.
The researchers made the discovery after studying muscle biopsies from people with type 1 diabetes who exercised more than the weekly amount recommended by Diabetes Canada, a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
Thomas Hawke, corresponding author of the study and a professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster, said: “Now we know that even active people with diabetes have changes in their muscles that could impair their ability to manage blood sugar.
“Knowing in the long term that this could contribute to faster development of disability, we can start to address it early on.”
Participating in regular aerobic exercise, such as running or swimming, increases the amount of mitochondria in the muscle, which serves to power the body’s cells. When the process works properly more glucose is used up, meaning the muscle cells work more efficiently.
But this study suggests the mitochondria process becomes impaired in those who have type 1 diabetes.
Christopher Perry, study co-senior author and an associate professor in kinesiology and health sciences and the Muscle Health Research Centre at York University, added: “Skeletal muscle is our largest metabolic organ and is the primary tissue for clearing blood sugar after eating a meal, so we need to keep muscle as healthy as possible.
“We believe these dysfunctional mitochondria are what’s causing the muscle to not use glucose properly and to also damage muscle cells in the process. We were surprised to see the muscles were this unhealthy in young adults with type 1 diabetes who were regularly active.”
The researchers have recommended the exercise guidelines for people with type 1 diabetes should be reviewed, and plan to carry out further research to investigate their results.
The findings appear online in the Diabetologia journal.
Editor’s note: It is advised for all people with type 1 diabetes, active or inactive, to get regular exercise because this helps improve glucose regulatio, among other benefits, so these findings should not deter anyone from living an active life. Moreover, further research will be required to explain this mitochondria link and whether, in fact, there is an underlying cause behind this outcome.

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