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A study conducted by UAB researchers found that insulin resistance, a precursor to fatal cardiovascular events, is common among young adults.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that nearly 40 percent of young adults without diabetes experience insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not respond correctly to insulin and is unable to use glucose from the blood for energy.

“Presence of insulin resistance is thought to be a precursor to development of diabetes and potentially fatal cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke and cardiac death,” said Vibhu Parcha, M.D., a clinical research fellow in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease and the first author of this study. “Despite the growing recognition in the medical community of the onset of cardiometabolic diseases, we did not have a good understanding of insulin resistance among young adults. This motivated us to evaluate cardiometabolic diseases among young adults through insulin resistance — an easily quantifiable surrogate of cardiometabolic health.”

Parcha and his team investigated data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in a national sample of more than 6,000 young American adults. They found that four in 10 adults, ages 18-44, have insulin resistance, and those with insulin resistance have a significantly higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, poor physical activity and high cholesterol.

Parcha, M.D., and Pankaj Arora, M.D.
Vibhu Parcha, M.D., and Pankaj Arora, M.D.,
(Photography: Aubrey Joyner and Andrea Mabry)

“We traditionally think of young adults as being in good health, but our findings show that this is not necessarily true,” Parcha said. “Our research suggests that, unless adequate intervention is provided, young adults are at risk for developing diabetes and potentially experiencing fatal cardiovascular events. If we shift our efforts to tracking down young individuals with insulin resistance, we can catch these cardiovascular risk factors and intervene earlier with effective, lifesaving medications and lifestyle interventions that will allow us to help these young adults live long, healthy lives.”

Previously, insulin resistance was thought to be a condition only of those who were obese; but since 50 percent of participants with insulin resistance were not obese, this may not be the case.

“As health care providers, we often consider screening for insulin resistance and cardiovascular diseases only in those who are obese,” said Pankaj Arora, M.D., senior author of the study and physician-scientist in UAB’s Division of Cardiovascular Disease. “This means that we will be missing out on providing highly effective, preventive and therapeutic strategies to young adults who could be at risk of fatal cardiovascular events later in life.”

Arora emphasizes that, although young adults can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to screening for diabetes and cardiovascular and cardiometabolic diseases, these screenings could easily be implemented in clinics across the country in an effort to prevent deaths caused by these diseases.

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