Trained alert dogs that should detect falling sugar levels for diabetic owners are missing the mark, NPR reported. The service dogs are advertised as lifesaving and miraculous, but they come with sweeping disclaimers. Being at risk for type 2 diabetes is part genetics, part lifestyle.
According to NPR, trained alert dogs for diabetic owners sell for up to tens of thousands of dollars, and business is booming. “The diabetic alert dog industry is unstandardized and largely unregulated, and the science on a dog’s ability to reliably sniff out blood sugar changes is, at best, inconclusive,” the article said. “Several [dog training companies] have faced lawsuits or complaints recently from consumers who bought diabetic alert dogs that they say don’t work. In Texas, a group of more than a dozen dog buyers sued a trainer for fraud and won a judgment for $800,000.”
The article also cited a 2017 study that found that only three of 14 diabetic alert dogs tested better than random chance at detecting a change in a human’s blood sugar levels. While diabetes affects more than 30 million Americans, many diabetics would benefit from learning more about the basic fundamentals of the disease, its treatment, and the serious consequences of not taking care of their health.
A Genetic Predisposition
There are three types of diabetes mellitus: insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, though it used to be considered juvenile diabetes presenting in children; non-insulin-dependent, or adult-onset, type 2 diabetes is the most common and usually presents in adults; and gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and may or may not go away after childbirth. Professor Roberta H. Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, said that 80 percent to 90 percent of diabetics suffer from type 2 diabetes. But what is type 2 diabetes?
“In this case, the body makes insulin, but it’s not being effectively used by the body,” Professor Anding said. “This is diagnosed by having a fasting blood sugar of greater than 126 milliliters per deciliter, or an oral glucose tolerance test of greater than 200.”
Studies of identical twins overwhelmingly show that type 2 diabetes is genetic. “If one twin gets diabetes, the chance that the other twin gets diabetes is three out of four,” Professor Anding said. “We have now identified multiple different genes, or loci on genes, that will suggest that yes, there are some higher risk individuals. The Human Genome Project has identified over 17 genetic loci strongly associated with type 2 diabetes.”
Nature Vs. Nurture
Despite genetics playing a major part in contracting type 2 diabetes, our environment also comes into play. One prevention study called the Diabetes Prevention Program did research into how effective diabetes prevention could be when properly applied, and the results were stunning.
“They assigned people with blood sugars that were just below the level of pre-diabetes to one of three groups: placebo, standard care; metformin, which is a medication that is used to control diabetes; or lifestyle intervention,” Professor Anding said. “The lifestyle intervention included two and a half hours per week of physical activity and a healthier, low-fat, low-calorie diet.
“Lifestyle intervention reduced the incidence of diabetes by 58 percent, where traditional pharmacology that is used for the same kind of circumstance reduced it by 31 percent.”
Cutting calories is a good start, Professor Anding said, but controlling which fats you eat helps as well. She cited a high intake of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats as leading to lower risks of diabetes, as do diets with a lot of whole grains and cereal fiber.
Following diabetes prevention steps through healthy living has plenty of scientific backing, unlike the trend in using diabetic alert dogs to detect low sugars in diabetics.
Professor Roberta H. Anding contributed to this article. Professor Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She received her bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and her master’s degree in Nutrition from Louisiana State University.