Common amino acid may help prevent type 2 diabetes

Adding more leucine, a common amino acid, to the diets of individuals at risk for developing type 2 diabetes may help them avoid the condition completely, according to a new study from researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center.

The team said that their findings could have important implications for helping prevent the onset of diabetes. Leucine is one of the most common amino acids and is found in nearly all high-protein foods. It could be relatively simple for individuals to get more of the nutrient and reduce their risk of disease.

For the study, the researchers fed two groups of mice high-fat diets. One group had extra leucine added to their feed. After several weeks, the researchers found that those receiving the supplement had lower blood sugar levels and less fat in their livers, which are two symptoms of prediabetes and insulin resistance. These results were apparent despite the fact that both groups of mice gained weight at the same rate.

"We found that adding just this one amino acid to the diet changed the metabolism in a lot of different pathways," said Ronald Kahn, who led the investigation. "It had effects that improved insulin sensitivity, improved their ability to metabolize sugar and fats and their overall metabolism improved."

He added that the findings show how simple it may be to control type 2 diabetes risk. Leucine is found in many foods and is an extremely common nutrient. In addition to food sources, it is available in nutritional supplements and often taken by those seeking to increase their muscle mass. Its wide availability could make it a powerful tool in the fight against diabetes.

The findings in mice do not necessarily mean that humans will respond the same way to leucine, the researchers admitted. This means that it would be too soon to definitively recommend the nutrient to individuals who are at risk for type 2 diabetes. However, the team is planning to test the amino acid in humans and is hopeful that it could yield similar results.