Electromagnetic fields could be used to manage, maybe even treat, type 2 diabetes

A new study reports that the symptoms of type 2 diabetes could be managed through a few hours’ worth of exposure to magnetic fields every day — in mice, at least.

Image credits Flickr / Tebo Steele.

Exposure to magnetic and static electric fields for a few hours can keep blood sugar levels in check without the need for medication or direct intervention, the paper explains. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by unsafe levels of sugars in the blood, and as such, the methods described in this study can help manage the condition.

For now, the findings have only been confirmed in lab mice, so we still don’t know if they hold true for humans as well. However, the team is hopeful that they do, which will provide us with a new, non-invasive means of managing the disease, especially for patients who are having trouble with current treatment options.

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“We’ve built a remote control to manage diabetes,” says Calvin Carter, PhD, one of the study’s lead authors from the University of Iowa (UI) Carver College of Medicine.

“Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) for relatively short periods reduces blood sugar and normalizes the body’s response to insulin. The effects are long-lasting, opening the possibility of an EMF therapy that can be applied during sleep to manage diabetes all day.”

EMFs can alter the balance of oxidants and antioxidant compounds in the liver, the study showed, which can improve our body’s response to insulin (a sugar-regulating hormone). This response is likely mediated by molecules with electromagnetic properties that act as tiny “antennae”, the authors believe.

The findings were ‘a happy accident’, with the effect of EMFs on blood sugar levels discovered while Sunny Huang, the co-lead author on the paper, was analyzing their effect on the brain and behavior of mice. He noticed that all the animals exposed to EMFs showed normal blood sugar levels, despite being genetically-engineered to have type 2 diabetes. The team was quickly able to tie these abnormal readings to EMF exposure prior to the analysis.

Carter and Huang later developed a device that can wirelessly generate static magnetic and electric fields to see if it could modulate blood sugar levels in three of the genetically-modified mice — and it did. These fields are roughly 100 times stronger than those naturally generated by the Earth. Furthermore, mice who were exposed to these fields while they slept also saw their insulin resistance reversed in only three days of treatment.

The study helps us better understand how EMFs can interact with biological systems. Such fields are very common in today’s world, as they’re employed to transmit data wirelessly — for example in navigation or telecommunications.

The team explains that they found EMFs to interact with superoxide molecules in our bodies, but those in the liver specifically, leading to a heightened antioxidant response which in turn affects the effectiveness of insulin.

“When we remove superoxide molecules from the liver, we completely block the effect of the EMFs on blood sugar and on the insulin response. The evidence suggests that superoxide plays an important role in this process,” Carter adds.

The researchers also exposed human liver cells to EMFs for six hours and, through the use of an insulin surrogate marker, showed that they would likely produce similar anti-diabetic effects in human patients. The team is now working on a larger-scale test to see if EMFs would work the same in animals closer in size and physiology to humans.

The paper “Exposure to Static Magnetic and Electric Fields Treats Type 2 Diabetes” has been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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