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SCIENCE JOURNAL

Exercise training decreases pancreatic fat content and improves beta cell function regardless of baseline glucose tolerance: a randomised controlled trial

Comparative study on the effects of exercise training on pancreatic fat and beta cell function.

MAY 2, 2018

Written by Marja A. Heiskanen, Kumail K. Motiani, Andrea Mari, Virva Saunavaara, Jari-Joonas Eskelinen, Kirsi A. Virtanen, Mikko Koivumäki, Eliisa Löyttyniemi, Pirjo Nuutila, Kari K. Kalliokoski, Jarna C. Hannukainen

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ABSTRACT

Pancreatic fat accumulation may contribute to the development of beta cell dysfunction. Exercise training

improves whole-body insulin sensitivity, but its effects on pancreatic fat content and beta cell dysfunction are unclear. The aim of this parallel-group randomised controlled trial was to evaluate the effects of exercise training on pancreatic fat and beta cell function in healthy and prediabetic or type 2 diabetic participants and to test whether the responses were similar regardless of baseline glucose tolerance. Using newspaper announcements, a total of 97 sedentary 40–55-year-old individuals were assessed for eligibility. Prediabetes (impaired fasting glucose and/or impaired glucose tolerance) and type 2 diabetes were defined by ADA criteria. Of the screened candidates, 28 healthy men and 26 prediabetic or type 2 diabetic men and women met the inclusion criteria and were randomised into 2-week-long sprint interval or moderate-intensity continuous training programmes in a 1:1 allocation ratio using random permuted blocks. The primary outcome was pancreatic fat, which was measured by magnetic resonance spectroscopy. As secondary outcomes, beta cell function was studied using variables derived from oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) and whole-body insulin sensitivity and pancreatic fatty acid and glucose uptake were measured using positron emission tomography. The measurements were carried out at the Turku PET Centre, Finland. The analyses were based on an intention-to-treat principle. Given the nature of the intervention, blinding was not applicable. At baseline, the group of prediabetic or type 2 diabetic men had a higher pancreatic fat content and impaired beta cell function compared with the healthy men, while glucose and fatty acid uptake into the pancreas was similar. Exercise training decreased pancreatic fat similarly in healthy (from 4.4% [3.0%, 6.1%] to 3.6% [2.4%, 5.2%] [mean, 95% CI]) and prediabetic or type 2 diabetic men (from 8.7% [6.0%, 11.9%] to 6.7% [4.4%, 9.6%]; p = 0.036 for time effect) without any changes in pancreatic substrate uptake (p ≥ 0.31 for time effect in both insulin-stimulated glucose and fasting state fatty acid uptake). In prediabetic or type 2 diabetic men and women, both exercise modes similarly improved variables describing beta cell function. Two weeks of exercise training improves beta cell function in prediabetic or type 2 diabetic individuals and decreases pancreatic fat regardless of baseline glucose tolerance. This study shows that short-term training efficiently reduces ectopic fat within the pancreas, and exercise training may therefore reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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CONCLUSION

This study shows for the first time that exercise training decreases pancreatic fat content regardless of baseline glucose tolerance. In particular, individuals with fatty pancreas benefited from exercise training, with a similar decrease obtained with both sprint interval training (SIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). As an accumulation of ectopic fat in the internal organs, including the pancreas, is a key factor in obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes, this study shows that exercise training is an effective way to decrease ectopic fat accumulation and hence reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.