Adding muscle mass may reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Losing excess fat is widely considered to be one of the most important things an obese person can do to limit their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, new research suggests that adding more muscle mass may be equally as important.

Obesity rates are rising rapidly, and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing at a similar clip. This and other evidence has prompted healthcare experts to recommend that obese individuals lose their extra pounds in order to limit their chances of developing diabetes. Yet the new findings suggest that there may be more to the picture than a person’s body mass index.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles measured the muscle mass of more than 13,000 individuals and assessed participants’ levels of insulin resistance. The team reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that higher levels of muscle mass closely correlated with improved insulin sensitivity.

Preethi Srikanthan, MD, the leader of the investigation, said the findings could lead to a reevaluation of recommendations for helping overweight individuals reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"Our research shows that beyond monitoring changes in waist circumference or BMI, we should also be monitoring muscle mass," Srikanthan said. “This research suggests a role for maintaining fitness and building muscle. This is a welcome message for many overweight patients who experience difficulty in achieving weight loss."

Srikanthan added that more research is needed to determine the exact amount of muscle a person should add to limit their type 2 diabetes risk. Currently, there are well-established guidelines for how much weight a person should lose but no such recommendations exist for adding muscle mass.