Researchers have found that people who develop type 2 diabetes as an adult may show early signs of susceptibility at an early age of eight, decades before it is likely to be diagnosed.
For the study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, the research team looked at the effects of a genetic risk score for developing type 2 diabetes as an adult on metabolism measured from blood samples taken from the participants when they were aged eight, 16, 18, and 25 years.
"We knew that diabetes doesn't develop overnight. What we didn't know is how early in life the first signs of disease activity become visible and what these early signs look like," said study lead author Joshua Bell from the University of Bristol in the UK.
"We addressed these by looking at the effects of being more genetically prone to type 2 diabetes in adulthood on measures of metabolism taken across early life. This would not have been possible without the Children of the 90s study," Bell added.
The study tracked over 4,000 participants in the children of the 90s.
They combined genetic information with an approach called 'metabolomics', which involves measuring many small molecules in a blood sample, to try and identify patterns that are specific to early stages of type 2 diabetes development.
The study was conducted among young people who were generally free of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases to see how early in life the effects of being more susceptible to adult diabetes become visible.
In particular, certain types of HDL cholesterol were reduced at an age eight before other types of cholesterol including LDL were raised; inflammation and amino acids were also elevated by 16 and 18 years old. These differences widened over time.
"This does not mean that young people 'already have adult diabetes'; these are subtle differences in the metabolism of young people who are more prone to developing it later in life," Bell explained.
These findings help reveal the biology of how diabetes unfolds and what features may be targetable much earlier on to prevent the onset of disease and its complications.
"This is important because we know that the harmful effects of blood glucose, such as on heart disease, are not exclusive to people with diagnosed diabetes but extend to a smaller degree to much of the population," the authors wrote.