Grant To Young Diabetes Researcher From Funen: Aiming To Understand Why It Matters When We Eat

Posted on 12.06.2019

You are what you eat. You are also when you eat. Researchers know this, but they do not know exactly why. A Funen research team now has the opportunity to find at least part of the answer, and the hope is that this new knowledge will in time mean fewer of us dying of liver cancer, fatty liver and cirrhosis of the liver.

‘These diseases are currently not detected until very late. Our hope is that the knowledge we gain can lead both to earlier detection of the diseases and to a drug that can halt the incipient development of disease’, says Trine Vestergaard Dam of the University of Southern Denmark.

She is a key figure in the work, and has just received the opportunity to devote two years to the project, with a 1.1 million Danish kroner PhD grant from the Danish Diabetes Academy.

Specifically, she intends to study what happens when liver cells break down food, including its sugar and fat content, how the cells react to the food and how they behave in a fatty liver.

We know a great deal about some of the processes, and next to nothing about other, rarer cell types. It is these ‘others’ that Trine Vestergaard Dam will be working on. How do they work? Why does the liver sometimes not break down the things it is supposed to break down? How can we make it do so?

‘There is a major health benefit in avoiding things like fatty liver. Recent research shows that having both fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes is linked to a 62% higher risk of having a heart attack or cardiac arrest as compared with people who have type 2 diabetes but not fatty liver. And this affects as many as three quarters of all obese adults with type 2 diabetes’, explains Trine Vestergaard Dam.

Risk greater when we don’t follow our circadian rhythm

Researchers today know it matters what we eat – and they also know it matters that we no longer always live as we were meant to: getting up with sun and eating breakfast, then lunch at midday and dinner before the sun goes down. One thing that has been discovered is that early risers have a slightly healthier rhythm than night owls, and that night workers should be especially careful. In fact, it is already the case that many people who work nights have health checks more often than others.

‘The risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, fatty liver and cardiovascular disease increases when we don’t follow our circadian rhythm. It is best to eat regularly – just the fact that someone eats breakfast later at weekends can be seen in their liver’, says Trine Vestergaard Dam. 

Trine Vestergaard Dam, 27, studied biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Southern Denmark. She will work on her PhD at the University of Southern Denmark with Associate Professor Lars Grøntved, Head of Research at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Professor Aleksander Krag, a consultant at Odense University Hospital, as her supervisors.

‘You aren’t just what you eat. You are also when you eat, according to more and more research.’

FACTS

According to the Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus, up to 30% of the population of the western world today suffers from the liver disease known as non-alcoholic fatty liver, an obesity-related lifestyle disease closely linked to Type 2 diabetes and associated with increased mortality.

Having both fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes is linked to a 62% increase in the risk of having a heart attack or cardiac arrest as compared with people who have type 2 diabetes but not fatty liver.

Non-alcohol-related fatty liver affects three quarters of all obese adults with type 2 diabetes. According to a recent study, hospital admissions for fatty liver are associated with an increased risk of dying of cardiovascular diseases such as cardiac arrest in this patient group.

If at weekends you eat in a different rhythm to during the week, or perhaps eat at night, your body is subject to disruption of the circadian rhythm, so-called ‘metabolic jet lag’.

Irregular eating habits, or eating food or snacks late in the evening or during the night, is associated with an increased risk of overweight, elevated blood sugar and other circulatory disorders.

FACTS about the Danish Diabetes Academy

The Danish Diabetes Academy was founded in 2012 and is supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Danish universities and university hospitals. Its objective is to strengthen Danish diabetes research and treatment by helping to train the diabetes researchers and practitioners of the future.

CONTACT:

Trine Vestergaard Dam
Tel. +45 26206173
trida14@student.sdu.dk

Danish Diabetes Academy
Managing Director Tore Christiansen
Tel. +45 29646764
tore.christiansen@rsyd.dk

CAPTION:

As a teenager, Trine Vestergaard Dam was very interested in healthy food—understandably, as her agronomist father both grew crops and raised pigs on their farm in Frørup, near Nyborg. She read about what happens in the body when you eat a carrot – or a piece of chocolate – and, among other things, she learnt that carrots give you good eyesight, while chocolate gives you pleasure and raised blood sugar. She has now received a grant from the Danish Diabetes Academy to enable her to research why we get a disease like fatty liver that affects as many as three quarters of all obese adults with type 2 diabetes.

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