Can people with a pre-stage of type 2 diabetes, who spend at least one hour in a special cold suit, reduce the risk of developing diabetes? Researcher Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt (Maastricht University) hopes to get an answer to this question.

The muscles of diabetic patients do not respond adequately to the hormone insulin. As a result, they draw too little sugar from the blood, which results in an excessively high blood sugar level. And that is disadvantageous for their health.

Scientists accidentally came across the effect of coldness on muscles. The researchers were actually looking for something else (namely: what does cold do to your energy consumption?), but discovered that the muscles of diabetic patients absorb on average 43% more sugar from the blood when the patient is cold.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the Netherlands. People with diabetes are more likely to develop other illnesses. More than 1.1 million Dutch people already have diabetes and 1,000 more are diagnosed every week.

Professor Van Marken Lichtenbelt was already carrying out research into cold and type 2 diabetes in 2015. He studied what it would do to the health of people with (pre-)diabetes and/or obesity if they spent a few hours a day in a cold room. That research showed that people’s energy consumption went up, to make warmth. Van Marken Lichtenbelt also discovered that insulin sensitivity increased in people with type 2 diabetes. The amount of insulin injected daily by patients could be reduced by half.

“Muscle tremors improved sugar balance”

In the 2015 study, people were exposed to a temperature of around 15 degrees, for 6 hours a day, for ten consecutive days. The scientists argue that probably the shivering of the muscles is responsible for the improvement in the participants’ sugar balance.

The new study (made possible with funding from the Diabetes Fund) looks at the effect of shivering due to the cold. Participants will be given a water suit. The temperature in the water suit is slowly lowered to ten degrees. Subjects are exposed to the cold for ten consecutive days, for at least one hour from the moment the participant starts shivering. The sugar balance is measured to determine the effect.

Reference (Dutch)