Covid-19 may trigger diabetes, growing body of evidence suggests

The theory has some precedent as other viruses are known to precipitate autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes. A paper published in Acta Diabetologica journal in 2009 found that damage to the body caused by Sars, a close cousin of the virus that causes Covid-19, triggered the onset of diabetes in some patients.

More recently, an experimental study in miniature lab-grown pancreases published in the Lancet last week concluded that a Covid-19 infection “could induce new onset diabetes” by damaging the cells responsible for control blood sugar levels. 

The findings have not been confirmed in humans and it is unclear whether Covid-19 plays a direct role in the reduced production of insulin.

But on June 12, a group of 17 leading diabetes experts wrote a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine warning that new-onset diabetes is being observed in some patients who have tested positive for the Covid-19. 

Research has shown that ACE-2, the protein that Sars-Cov-2 binds to as it enters the human cell, is not only located in the lungs. It is also in organs and tissues that are involved in glucose metabolism – such as the pancreas, the small intestine, the fat tissue, the liver and the kidney.

Experts believe that by entering these tissues, the virus may cause multiple and complex dysfunctions of glucose metabolism, triggering diabetes. 

But there are warnings that considerably more research is needed to reach a conclusive answer. Experts hope for clarity in the coming months after a global database, dubbed the CoviDiab Registry project was established in early June to collect information on Covid-19 patients with high blood-sugar levels. 

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