While there are quite a few male athletes with type 1 diabetes, the type in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin, scientists say you would probably have a harder time locating one with type 2 diabetes, in which the body does produce insulin, but does not use it properly.
In fact, Dr. Merja Laine and a team of scientists from the University of Helsinki in Helsinki, Finland did a study on the matter which included almost 400 former elite male athletes. In their study, they found that the risk of these athletes developing diabetes was reduced by 28 percent.
The study involving male Finnish athletes was a follow-up to earlier work which began in 1985. In the earlier work, a questionnaire was sent to 1,518 male athletes and 1,010 controls. In 1995 and 2001, additional questionnaires were sent. Then, in 2008, all members of the two groups who were still living and had responded to at least one of the questionnaires were invited to participate in a clinical study. Out of 747 surviving athletes, 392 agreed to participate. And, out of 436 controls, 207 participated. The clinical study involved a physical, lab tests and further questionnaires.
The researchers then divided the former athletes into three groups, depending on what their sports career involved: endurance, power sports or mixed. Those without any history of diabetes – 537 men – took an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) involving 75 g of glucose administered over a period of two hours. The purpose of doing an OGTT is to learn how well the body is able to break down sugar. It is often used to detect the presence of diabetes.
In addition, the scientists calculated the men’s leisure-time physical activity (LTPA), expressed as metabolic equivalent hours (MET-h), based upon the men’s own reports. LTPA is just what it sounds like. It is a measure of how much physical activity that someone has participated in, including any exercise, sports, hobbies or other recreational activities which are not a part of a job or other required duties.
Information about reimbursable diabetes medications was taken from a central Finnish registry.
While the research team found that being a former athlete reduced the men’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 28 percent overall, there was quite a bit of variation in risk between the different categories of sports. Endurance athletes had a 61 percent reduction in risk, while those in mixed sports and power sports had risk reductions of only 21 percent and 23 percent respectively. The latter two figures, however, were not statistically significant, meaning that these variations in risk could simply have occurred due to chance.
The team also found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes went down when LTPA went up, increasing by 2 percent per 1 MET-h per week. In addition, the former athletes had a 42 percent reduced risk of impaired glucose tolerance, which is a precursor to diabetes.
The research appears in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).
By Nancy Schimelpfening