Strength test identifies risk of type 2 diabetes

Testing the strength of your handgrip could be used as a quick, low-cost screening tool to help healthcare professionals identify people at risk of type 2 diabetes.

In new research, published today in Annals of Medicine, scientists at the universities of Bristol and Eastern Finland measured the muscular handgrip strength.

The study involved 776 men and women without a history of diabetes over a 20-year period. It found that the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by 50 percent for every unit increase in handgrip strength value.

Impact of type 2 diabetes

Diabetes in all forms is the ninth major cause of death in the world. Around 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

In Australia, almost 1.2 million people are live with type 2 diabetes and it’s estimated a further 500,000 are undiagnosed.

Though older age, obesity, family history and lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, smoking, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol contribute substantially to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, these factors alone do not explain all of the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Reduced muscular strength, which can be measured by handgrip strength, has consistently been linked to early death, cardiovascular disease, and disability.

Until recently, there was inconsistent evidence on the relationship between handgrip strength and type 2 diabetes. In a recent literature review of ten published studies on the topic the same researchers demonstrated that people with higher values of handgrip strength had a 27 per cent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

While findings from this review suggested handgrip strength could be used to predict type 2 diabetes, researchers needed to test this formally using individual patient data.

What does the strength test reveal?

In this latest study, 776 men and women aged 60-72 years with no history of diabetes over a 20-year period were asked to squeeze the handles of a dynamometer with their dominant hand for five seconds.

An analysis of the results showed that the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by about 50 percent for every unit increase in handgrip strength value.

This association persisted even after taking into account several established factors that can affect type 2 diabetes such as age, family history of diabetes, physical activity, smoking, hypertension, waist circumference and fasting plasma glucose.

When information on handgrip strength was added to known to risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the prediction of type 2 diabetes improved further.

A new diagnostic tool

These findings may have implications for the development of type 2 diabetes prevention strategies.

“Assessment of handgrip is simple, inexpensive and does not require very skilled expertise and resources and could potentially be used in the early identification of individuals at high risk of future type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Setor Kunutsor, Study Lead Author, University of Bristol

The findings were marked in women compared to men. This suggests women are likely to benefit from the use of this potential screening tool.

Principal investigator, Professor Jari Laukkanen from the University of Eastern Finland, added,  “These results are based on a Finnish population. Given the low number in our analyses, we propose larger studies to replicate these findings in other populations .”

Further research is needed to understand if improving muscle strength will reduce an individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes.

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