The Role of Vegan Diets in Lipotoxicity-Induced Beta-Cell Dysfunction in Type-2-Diabetes

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Maximilian Andreas Storz


Vegan, Diet, Fat, Saturated, Polyunsaturated, Weight, Obesity, Beta Cell, Lipotoxicity, Lipoapoptosis, Type-2-Diabetes


Type-2-diabetes is considered the new plague of the current century and both, its incidence and prevalence are rapidly increasing. Chronic insulin resistance and a progressive decline in beta-cell function are discussed as the root causes of type-2-diabetes. Both were associated with obesity and pathologically elevated concentrations of circulating free fatty acids in the blood.

The harmful effects of chronically elevated free fatty acid levels on glucose homeostasis and non-adipose tissues are referred to as lipotoxicity. Pancreatic beta-cells appear to be particularly vulnerable and both, dietary fat quantity and quality may impact beta-cell function.

Diets high in saturated fats are especially harmful to beta-cells while (poly-)unsaturated fatty acids were associated with beta-cell protective effects. This review examined how a dietary modification towards a low-fat vegan diet, which is particularly low in saturated and trans-fats, could help to prevent or reduce lipotoxicity-induced beta cell dysfunction.

Several potential mechanisms of action were identified including: (1) reduced total fat intake (fat quantity), (2) a more favorable polyunsaturated fatty acid to saturated fatty acid ratio (fat quality), (3) improved body weight and a reduction in adipose tissue mass, and finally (4) improved glycemic control. The latter appears of paramount importance in light of the accumulating evidence that lipotoxic events are tightly coupled to excess glucose levels.

All four mechanisms are likely to contribute complementarily to improved beta-cell function in individuals with type-2-diabetes and may reduce the likelihood of lipotoxic events to occur. Physicians must consider these findings when counseling patients on lifestyle and nutrition.

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