Exercise against diabetes and obesity
Does exercise help against diabetes and obesity? Researchers around PD Dr Stephanie Kullmann from Helmholtz Munich and DZD have investigated this question in a clinical study. The results show that just eight weeks of exercise can help restore the brain’s insulin sensitivity in adults with overweight and obesity. This finding opens up new therapeutic possibilities for reducing obesity and diabetes risk factors in the future.
Insulin plays a central role in type 2 diabetes and obesity. In these diseases, the body’s cells become resistant to the hormone from the pancreas. The latter has to produce more and more insulin to maintain sugar metabolism and lower blood glucose levels. At some point the pancreas reaches its performance limit and can no longer produce enough insulin: Insulin resistance develops.
The brain also plays a crucial role in insulin resistance: if the brain no longer responds to insulin, this affects regions in the brain that are responsible among other things, for the sensation of hunger, satiety, and the interaction of motivation, reward, emotions and exercise behavior. The consequences: A negative influence on metabolism in the body, the regulation of eating behavior and body weight.
Exercise improves insulin sensitivity in the brain
So far, there is no established therapy to restore insulin sensitivity in the brain. Researchers led by PD Dr Stephanie Kullmann, who works at the Institute of Diabetes Research and Metabolic Disease (IDM) of Helmholtz Munich at the University Tübingen and the Department of Diabetology and Endocrinology at the University Hospital Tübingen, have now investigated in a clinical trial whether exercise can improve insulin sensitivity in the brain and how the changes affect metabolism and behavior. The study has now appeared in JCI Insight.
The result of the study shows: Aerobic exercise improves the effect of insulin in the brain to the level of a person with a healthy weight. Further, positive effects on the metabolism, a decrease of the sensation of hunger and a reduction of the unhealthy visceral fat could be demonstrated in participants with improved brain insulin sensitivity.
The study suggests that insulin resistance in the brain may be reversible. These findings could open up new starting points for therapies against obesity and diabetes. Further studies are planned to verify whether improving the insulin sensitivity of the brain in people with type 2 diabetes actually has a positive effect on metabolism.
Kullmann et al.: Exercise restores brain insulin sensitivity in sedentary adults who are overweight and obese. JCI Insight. 2022;7(18):e161498. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.161498