Tyrosine May Help Predict Increased Risk of Diabetes in South Asians

Dr. Therese Tillin Research Fellow, Cardiometabolic Phenotyping Group Institute of Cardiovascular Science Faculty of Pop Health SciencesMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Therese Tillin

Research Fellow, Cardiometabolic Phenotyping Group
Institute of Cardiovascular Science
Faculty of Pop Health Sciences

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Tillin: The global burden of type 2 diabetes is rising rapidly and people of South Asian origins (from the Indian subcontinent)  remain at much higher risk of developing diabetes than people of European origin.  Why is this?  Although it is  thought that increased levels of obesity around the waist level, diet, physical activity levels and genetic factors contribute, no study to date has been able to tease out fully the underlying causes for the added risk in South Asian people.  However, it is likely that complex metabolic disturbances may play an important role.

We have been studying a British cohort of people of European and South Asian origin for nearly 20 years and have used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to build a profile of amino acids in blood samples that were collected at the start of the study between 1988 and 1991.  We found that higher levels of some amino acids, in particular tyrosine, were already present in non-diabetic South Asian individuals back then.  Some of these amino acids, again especially tyrosine, more strongly predicted later development of type 2 diabetes in the South Asian people than in the Europeans in our study, even after adjustment for other risk factors such as obesity and insulin resistance. A given increase (one standard deviation) in tyrosine increased risk of developing diabetes by just 10% in Europeans, while in South Asians the increase in risk was 47%.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Tillin: This study has  fitted  another piece of the jigsaw of complicated underlying reasons as to why South Asians are at such high risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with European origin populations.  This is the first study that has looked at the links between amino acid levels (the building blocks of proteins) and the future development of diabetes in people of both European and South Asian origins living in one geographical area.  Disturbances of amino acid are likely to occur in the liver, kidneys, muscle and adipose tissues.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but believe that our findings suggest that amino acid disturbances ( particularly tyrosine) may be a focus for future research,  paving the way for better prevention and potentially for targeted treatments in South Asian individuals.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Tillin: In our population-based study we were unable to perform the detailed study of metabolism that is needed to understand why some amino acid levels were higher in South Asians and why they were more strongly linked to the development of diabetes in South Asians.  Future studies in South Asians and comparable Europeans could examine in each ethnic group the role of different tissues such as liver, kidneys, adipose and muscle, in metabolic pathways which involve amino acids and their associations with impaired insulin sensitivity.

Some studies have suggested that in Europeans, altered amino acid metabolism is linked with poorer sensitivity to the effects of insulin  before the development of diabetes.  South Asian people tend to have less lean muscle tissue and more liver fat as well as larger and more poorly functioning  adipose tissue cells and it is possible that increased turnover of protein may result from increased obesity in the abdomen and lower level of lean muscle in these individuals.


Diabetes risk and amino acid profiles: cross-sectional
and prospective analyses of ethnicity, amino acids and diabetes
in a South Asian and European cohort from the SABRE (Southall And Brent REvisited) Study)

T Tillin, AD Hughes, Q Wang, P Würtz, M Ala-Korpela, N Sattar, NG Forouhi, IF Godsland, S Eastwood, PM McKeigue, N Chaturvedi

Diabetologia 2015,

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with:, & Dr. Therese Tillin (2015). Tyrosine May Help Predict Increased Risk of Diabetes in South Asians MedicalResearch.com

Last Updated on February 12, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD