By 2030 diabetes cases in the UK will have risen by 50% compared to 2007 levels, according to Diabetes UK. That’s largely down to an alarming rise in the level of obesity, but there is increasing evidence that Covid-19 may also triggering new cases, a leading expert is warning.
Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory says diabetes is escalating rapidly in the UK population, usually linked to factors such as weight, lifestyle, age and family history. In the last year he believes there is evidence has been building that there could also be a link with Covid-19.
‘One in ten people will have diabetes by the end of the next decade, and one in three will be at much increased risk of developing it. Fortunately, there is a simple blood test (HbA1c) which will categorically confirm whether or not you have Type 2 diabetes – even in the earliest stages, long before any symptoms have developed.
‘This increase in diabetes could, in some cases, be linked to Covid. New research has revealed Covid could be triggering the disease in previously healthy people, and potentially significantly worsening cases for some pre-existing diabetics.
‘Put simply, diabetes is a disease in which people’s blood sugar levels become too high. If not treated quickly, it can lead to heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, amputation, and blindness. There are two types of the disease: Type 1 is the most severe and symptoms can develop over weeks or even days; Type 2 is by far the most common, and symptoms develop more slowly and may not be as obvious.
‘The first signs that you may have diabetes are that you urinate more often, are frequently thirsty, are often tired, have unexpected weight loss or suddenly suffer from blurry eyesight.
‘Keeping your blood sugar levels normal requires the proper balance of glucagon and insulin secretion at the appropriate times. A lack of insulin secretion can result in Type 1 diabetes. This may be triggered by Covid-19 attacking pancreatic cells.
‘The SARS-CoV-2 virus can spread beyond patient’s respiratory tract and lungs. Two U.S. studies released this summer, from Weill Cornell Medicine and Stanford University School of Medicine, have shown Covid-19 in pancreatic β-cells from patients who died from Covid-19. Additional experiments revealed that Covid-19 selectively infected human islet β-cells in laboratory experiments. This suggests that Covid-19 infection of the pancreatic β-cells can, in some cases, lead to diabetes similar to Type 1 diabetes in previously healthy patients.
‘It is already acknowledged in the UK that patients with pre-existing diabetes have a higher risk of serious complications with Covid-19, they are on the UK priority vaccine list. The way Covid-19 penetrates organs is a particular concern. The virus interacts with a receptor called ACE-2 to infiltrate cells in organs, including the pancreas. It is likely that this disrupts sugar metabolism.
‘What can people do to avoid the risk of Covid-19 and diabetes comorbidity? As well as keeping up to date with Covid vaccinations, obvious measures include reducing weight, not eating too many sugary products, staying within Government alcohol guidelines, and continuing to avoid crowded areas such as nightclubs.
‘Additionally, a Covid-19 antibody level test is an effective indicator of your chances of catching the virus, while a simple diabetes blood test enables you to check your diabetes status. This diabetes test measures your level of HbA1c, a biomarker in people’s blood. A result between 42-47mmol/mol is considered high risk for diabetes and a level greater than 48mmol/mol carries a diagnosis of diabetes.
‘For people worried about their combined risk of Covid and diabetes, tests for either or both are available at London Medical Laboratory centres throughout London and the South-east of England, or as finger prick tests sent through the post for testing at home. For more information about diabetes status checks, see https://www.londonmedicallaboratory.com/product/diabetes-check and for Covid antibody level testing see: https://www.privatecoronavirustests.com/product/igg-quantitative