New research from The University of St Andrews suggests that a deeper understanding of how zinc is handled in our bodies could change the way type 2 diabetes is treated.
The research, headed by Dr Amelie Sobczak, Research Fellow at the University and Dr Alan Stewart, Senior Lecturer, investigates the role of zinc in blood clotting processes.
People with type 2 diabetes are at serious risk of heart and circulatory diseases. Unwanted blood clots occur more frequently in people with type 2 diabetes and they are three times more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia.
The research published in the journal Chemical Science found that increased levels of fatty acids in the blood, such as is often found in people with type two diabetes can affect the way in which zinc is transported and the influence subsequent formation of blood clots.
Zinc is an essential nutrient obtained through diet that fulfils a number of vital functions in the body including regulating blood clotting. Zinc is then carried through our bodies by a protein called albumin. This protein also transports fatty acids through our blood. However, the study found that when the levels of fatty acid are elevated, albumin has trouble transporting zinc. As a result, the zinc binds with other molecules and activates clot forming blood proteins.
Dr Alan Stewart senior lecturer in molecular medicine at the University of St Andrews said that: “We have long been aware that people with diabetes are prone to developing complications relating to the formation of unwanted blood clots. However, the mechanisms that lead to this happening are not fully known or understood.
“In type 2 diabetes, there is a tendency for individuals to have metabolic defects that lead to higher than normal fatty acid levels in the blood. What we have found in this work, is that these elevated levels of fatty acids can affect how zinc is handled in the blood and consequently how blood clot form.”
Given this new information, Dr Stewart suggests that, “strategies leading to a lowering of fatty acid levels in the blood are likely to be beneficial. This could be through dietary changes or weight loss.”
He hopes that the research’s findings may be useful in the development of future treatments for type 2 diabetes. He said: “Given that we have a good understanding of how this mechanism works at the molecular level, it may be possible to design therapeutics that can attenuate how fatty acids bind to albumin so as to preserve its ability to transport zinc and thus to reduce formation of unwanted blood clots. We also hope that this work might encourage those with type 2 diabetes to ensure they make good lifestyle choices.”
James Jopling, head of the British Heart Foundation Scotland, who funded the research said: “Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes – conditions which can severely affect quality of life. Research projects like this one in St Andrews help inform how we treat patients, identify those at particular risk and ultimately find new ways to save and improve lives.”