Wearable device boosts fat loss in obese diabetics

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Researchers say a new electric-pulse device might be as effective as exercise in helping combat diabetes(Credit: tish1/Depositphotos)

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Though you can't see it, visceral fat, the stuff that surrounds your internal organs, is the one you have to pay attention to, as too much of it can lead to an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes. For those with the disease, recent studies have shown that it is possible to reverse the condition by targeting the fat in the pancreas or embarking on a low-calorie diet. And now, scientists at Kumamoto University have added another potential solution to the list: a wearable device that helps boost fat loss in obese patients.

A body's cells come under stress when they are exposed to sudden changes in their environment. To counter this, they produce a group of proteins called Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) to protect the cell. Obesity, one of the biggest drivers of Type II diabetes, hinders the body's ability to activate its Heat Shock Response (HSR) and produce HSPs – in particular, one known as HSP 72, which is closely associated with insulin signaling. To restore its HSR function, the Kumamoto team developed a wearable belt-like device to deliver mild electrical stimulation (MES) with heat shock (HS) at the same time. Made of a special type of rubber, it does this by delivering 55 electrical pulses per second when it is worn and activated.

To test the efficacy of the device, the researchers conducted two clinical trials. The first, conducted among 40 obese men with Type II diabetes, showed that the activation of the HSR produced a significant therapeutic effect. Results included a decrease in fasting glucose levels, a loss of visceral fat, improved insulin resistance, and a significant lowering of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) values. HbA1c refers to glycated haemoglobin, a condition that develops when glucose binds to the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin in the blood. Basically, the higher the value, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

The next trial was conducted among 60 obese patients from both genders over a period of 12 weeks. Each treatment lasted 60 minutes and trial subjects were separated into three groups receiving two, four, and seven treatments per week to determine the most effective treatment frequency.

While all groups showed an improvement in the reduction of visceral fat and HbA1c values, the seven-treatments-per-week group demonstrated the highest numbers, a 16.45 cm2 reduction of visceral fat compared to 5.37 cm2 and 14.24 cm2; and a 0.65 percent reduction in HbA1c values, compared to 0.10 percent in the twice-a-week treatment group. The subjects also showed improvement in chronic inflammation, fatty liver markers, renal function and lipid profiles.

The device, which has a slight resemblance to a tummy trimmer, also presents an attractive solution to the elderly and infirm due to its simple interface. "This device is very easy to use since it simply attaches to the abdomen, and it has a low-impact on the patient." said lead researcher Dr. Tatsuya Kondo. "One can expect the effects to be similar to exercise therapy. Even in patients who have difficulty exercising, such as those who are overweight, elderly, or have some form of disability, this device can be expected to provide acceptable treatment in addition to conventional diabetic medical care."

As this study was conducted without the use of a placebo, the researchers are currently planning a larger clinical trial with an appropriate control to further test the efficacy of MES + HS. While still in its early stages, this solution certainly beats more drastic measures such as gastric banding.

The team's results were published in Scientific Reports.

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