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Vibrating Mice Shake Up the Fight Against Diabetes

• October 24, 2012 • 12:01 PM

In a case of genuine good vibrations, a daily shake-up may help stave off diabetes in over-eating young people. It works in young mice, at any rate, and it works well, says Georgia Health Sciences University’s Dr. Jack C. Yu.

The shaking is a 20-minute session of whole-body vibration developed by the Soviet Union’s space program to prevent muscle and bone loss during long periods of weightlessness. Its reception since has been mixed: Biomechanical stimulation has since been linked to a number of positive effects, such as improved strength and reduced bone loss, even as studies have questioned those claims of improved strength and reduced bone loss. A quick Google search of the term “whole-body vibration” suggests a dab of skepticism might be warranted, with ads shilling machines offering to take the sweat out of fitness far outnumbering, say, analyses from the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers in Georgia were looking at a way to “leverage” the dawning realization that bones are endocrine organs, not to sell exercise gadgets. Dr. Yu, a craniofacial surgeon who heads the plastic and reconstructive surgery section at his university’s medical college,  suggests that the vibration mimics the motion bones get during exercise, and so the body responds as if muscles were busy beavering away. Among those responses to bending bones is the production of a bone-building protein that also tells the pancreas that a meal is likely inbound. The vibration-sponsored bone bending also produced a vast improvement in the mice’s ability to handle inflammation.

Researchers joining Yu found that eight weeks of daily sessions in the mouse-shaker did more to reduce one indicator of glucose levels in the blood than did prescription drugs. In fact, just four days of treatment saw the mice better handling a sugar-surge after a big meal (the mice were, by the way, genetically designed to overeat). Keep in mind that the inability to handle glucose levels properly is essentially shorthand for diabetes. Adding to the general feeling that the experiment might be onto something, diabetes symptoms, such as excessive thirst and diluted urine, were reduced in the lab animals.

The vibrations, however, only worked their magic on young mice—but that’s OK.

“This is our model: the average American teenager who eats too much,” said Yu in a release from Georgia Health Sciences University. The next step for the researchers is to try out whole-body vibration on human adolescents.

There shouldn’t be too much trouble finding human subjects. Besides the epidemic of teen obesity—more than 37 percent in Georgia, for example—creating lots of roly-poly kids, Yu reports his subjects seemed to enjoy being vibrated.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

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