Study Links Behaviour to Diabetes
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21 July 2010
By Umesh Isalkar
Observing behavioural patterns, which directly impact hormone levels and metabolism, may be effective in finding out whether a person is prone to endocrine disorders, including diabetes, suggests a study conducted recently by city–based experts.
This theory means that in the future, simple behavioural tests can be developed to detect proneness to diabetes at a very early stage, doing away with the belief that the ailment is just about diet, exercise and obesity, say experts.
“Behaviour or reactions trigger off release of hormones and stimulate our nerve signals. This, in turn, affects metabolism. In fact, a number of recent studies on wild primates have made progress in our understanding of the behaviour–metabolism interface,” Milind Watve, professor of biology at the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), told TOI.
Watve substantiated his statement by giving an example of how, when faced with a stress situation, the testosterone levels in chimpanzees go up, thus defining their aggressive nature. Whereas, in case of bonobos– the non–aggressive cousins of chimpanzees– the corticosteroid levels increase.
“If you react to a stressful situation using aggression, it means that a certain set of hormones are active in you and if you react by social manipulation, an entirely different set of hormones is active,” said Watve. How you behave largely decides your susceptibility to endocrine disorders– ie. disorders associated with changed levels of hormones. “Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder in India, so it was important to test whether this rule applied to diabetes. At least, the preliminary signs show that it does. Now, if specific behaviours make one prone to certain disorders, by studying the behaviour it would be possible to predict who is more prone to a given endocrine disorder.”
Watve said, “This is how behavioural studies will help us in preventive medicine. But this concept is new and much standardisation and validation steps are needed, before we can have behavioural diagnosis or prognosis in clinical medicine. This research is the first demonstration of this concept.”
The theory is rapidly gaining weight and researchers from Pune– including biologist Milind Watve and diabetologist Chittaranjan Yajnik– have made important contributions to its development. The other main contributors to this research are two undergraduate students of Abasaheb Garware College, Anuja
Joshi and Sumedha Kondekar– who are at present in their final year of BSc in biotechnology. Their work was motivated and guided by Maithili Jog, head of the biotech department, professor Milind Watve of IISER, Pune, and Prajakta Belsare, a PhD student at the University of Pune.
Anuja and Sumedha tested for detectable quantitative differences in behaviour of diabetics in comparison with healthy people of the same age group and socio–economic class. The study has recently found place in the Hong–Kong based scientific journal‘Psychology’.
“They used a game popularly known as Ultimatum Game, where the players have to make quick economic decisions in an imaginary situation. The game can be played in less than five minutes. Anuja and Sumedha asked 59 patients with diabetes or related disorders and 71 healthy persons to play the game and compared their decisions,” said Watve.
It turned out that economic decisions taken by diabetic and hypertensive persons were dramatically different than healthy people. The decisions of diabetics were economically more rational, whereas those of others were influenced more by prestige, social justice and other social factors, he added.
The data were carefully analysed and it was found that behaviour in the economic game had a stronger association with diabetes and hypertension than obesity.
“While the traditional theory has portrayed diet and obesity as the root cause of diabetes, the new theory gives more weight to the brain. The Ultimatum Game has been extensively used by psychology and economics researchers, but the idea to use it for diabetes was new,” said researchers Anuja and Sumedha.