SAN FRANCISCO -- Duke University Medical Center researchers have found that the depletion of body chemicals called antioxidants may increase the risk of complications from the most common form of diabetes.
The scientists recommend that diabetics take antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin C or E, to help stave off or even forestall the hallmark complications of diabetes, including blindness, kidney failure, amputation and even death.
Antioxidants neutralize oxygen "free radicals," highly reactive chemicals that are the potentially destructive byproducts of the body's process of turning food into energy. Normally, the body produces enough antioxidants of its own to keep the reactive oxygen from causing damage.
"We were able to show that patients with poor control of their diabetes who were beginning to show signs of complications had depleted their store of antioxidants," said Duke researcher Dr. Emmanuel Opara in an interview. "Further, we found a significant correlation between high blood-sugar levels and depletion of antioxidants.
"It appears that this depletion is a major risk factor for developing complications, and that antioxidant supplements could lower this risk," he concluded.
Opara prepared the results of his studies for presentation Sunday (April 19) at Experimental Biology `98, the annual scientific meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).
The researchers studied 50 similar people with Type II diabetes -- also known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes. In this form of the disease, insulin produced in the body is unable to trigger the lowering of high blood sugar. Type II diabetes afflicts about 90 percent of the estimated 10.7 million Americans diagnosed with the disease and the 5.4 million believed to have undiagnosed cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.