As many of us are aware, a good number of scientific findings, such as the discovery of penicillin, have been made by accident.
Well here’s another one to add to the list.
A May 23, 2018 article published in the journal Science Translational Medicine reports a surprising side effect of deep brain stimulation (DBS), which is sometimes used in the hardest to treat cases of OCD. It was observed that an obese man with type 2 diabetes underwent DBS for OCD, and his blood sugar levels improved to the extent that his daily insulin requirements decreased by approximately 80%.
To research further, scientists recruited 14 people who had OCD and had undergone DBS. These study participants did not have type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that the DBS therapy affected the subjects’ insulin sensitivity, and turning the brain stimulators off and on made the levels rise and fall. The metabolic function of the study participants was better when the brain stimulators were turned on, as opposed to when they were turned off.
So what is happening here? Researchers believe that a boost in the activity of dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in DBS) not only quiets OCD but also improves the body’s ability to process sugar. It is interesting to note that when we eat a lot of sugar, our dopamine levels increase as well.
Previous studies in mice have shown that dopamine released by neurons in the same general decision-making region the researchers stimulated—called the ventral striatum—plays a key role in regulating glucose throughout the body. As part of the research discussed above, the scientists also used optogenetics to stimulate striatal neurons in mice. As the neural cells released more dopamine, the rate at which other cells absorbed glucose from the rodents’ blood picked up.
Whether these findings actually lead to using DBS as a treatment for diabetes remains to be seen. Perhaps future research might lead to even less invasive procedures that target dopamine.
While I wouldn’t say that OCD and diabetes go hand-in hand, I am personally aware of quite a few people, including children, who have both illnesses, and scientists have recognized a connection between diabetes and anxiety disorders.
Sometimes studies raise more questions instead of providing us with easy answers. More research is needed to understand the connection, if any, between OCD and diabetes, so that we can figure out the best way to help those who suffer from these often-debilitating disorders.