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Families with Diabetes Produce Strong Athletes

A study from Italy confirms that elite track and field athletes who have a family history of diabetes have larger muscles, weigh more, and are better athletes (Springerplus, 2014;3:224). Forty six young male élite athletes were tested; thirteen with a family history of diabetes and thirty-three without. The athletes were asked to pedal or run as hard and fast as they could against a constant resistance. Those with a family history of diabetes were able to develop greater peak anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity while running and cycling.

Why This is True
Diabetics have high blood levels of a hormone called Insulin like growth factor one (IGF-1) that prevents them from responding to insulin that controls blood sugar levels. It also makes muscles larger and stronger. Sedentary people with a family history of diabetes also are heavier and have larger muscles (Acta Diabetol, 2014 Feb;51(1):79-84 and Iran J Public Health, 2013, Jul 1;42(7):681-90).

What This Means for People Who Are Already Diabetic
Diabetics should realize that the same genetic factors that increased their risk for diabetes can also make them better athletes. Furthermore, exercise is a major treatment for diabetes.

When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar sticks to the outer membranes of cells and destroys them to damage arteries to cause heart attacks, brain cells to cause dementia, nerves to cause impotence, kidneys to cause kidney failure and so forth.

Muscles that are contracting lower blood sugar levels by drawing sugar from the bloodstream without needing insulin and continue to do so for up to 17 hours after a person finishes exercising. Resting muscle do not draw significant sugar from the bloodstream and to draw any sugar, resting muscles need insulin.

My Recommendations
• Young people in families with a history of diabetes should be singled out early in life and encouraged to develop strength and skill in the sport of their choice. They may be rewarded with scholarships and perhaps be good enough for professional sports. They should also be counseled to maintain lifelong fitness and weight control, since they are likely to become diabetic if they become out-of-shape and gain weight.

• People who are already diabetic should be told that the same factors that increased their risk for diabetes can also make them better athletes. They should be encouraged to check with their doctors for potential complications, and then start an exercise and strength-training program that can be more effective in treating their diabetes than any drug that they are taking.

Checked 8/1/15

August 24th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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