Individuals who develop diabetes during middle age have an average lifespan six years shorter than other people, researchers from the University of Cambridge, England, revealed in the New England Journal of Medicine after carrying out a major, multinational study, involving over 250 scientists from 25 nations.

We already know that diabetes doubles the risk of some life-threatening diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks. However, this study showed that several other diseases are more likely to affect people with diabetes, including infections and cancer.

Diabetes affects almost 285 million people globally. The authors said that their study highlights the importance of preventing diabetes.

Researchers from the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration gathered data on 820,900 individuals. They were all carefully monitored for approximately one decade. After taking into account major risk factors, such as smoking, age, and sex, they found that patients with diabetes had a higher chance of dying from various forms of cancer, mental illnesses, infections, and diseases of the lungs, kidneys liver and digestive system.

Most of the shortened life expectancy comes from strokes, heart attacks and other blood vessel diseases, the authors explained. Only a small number of links were explained by hypertension (high blood pressure, high blood lipid levels or obesity – conditions which commonly exist with diabetes II patients.

About 60 per cent of the reduced life expectancy in people with diabetes is attributable to blood vessel diseases (such as heart attacks and strokes), with the remainder attributable to these other conditions. Only a small part of these associations are explained by obesity, blood pressure, or high levels of fat in the blood – conditions which often co-exist with diabetes.

Principal Investigator Professor John Danesh, said:

“These findings broaden and intensify the need for efforts to prevent and understand diabetes. In particular, the findings highlight the need for more detailed study of whether treatments against diabetes may also be relevant to lowering the risk of a range of diseases, including common cancers.”

A diabetes patient has a higher chance of dying from deliberate self harm. This finding requires further investigation, the authors stressed. Researchers need to look into possible links between diabetes and depression.

“Diabetes Mellitus, Fasting Glucose, and Risk of Cause-Specific Death”
The Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration
N Engl J Med 2011; 364:829-841 March 3, 2011

Written by Christian Nordqvist