A blind fish dwelling in Mexican caves could hold the secret to insulin resistance and diabetes management. Here’s what that means for those living with diabetes.
What to know about the fish
These tetra fish survive on a diet of algae, which isn’t always in abundance on the cave floor. They gorge themselves on algae when it’s available and experience drastic dips and spikes in blood sugar as a result. The fish are insulin resistant; meaning, they experience sustained levels of high blood sugar that aren’t regulated by insulin. However, they don’t seem to experience any health complications from the high blood sugar. In humans, sustained levels of high blood sugar (diabetes) can lead to major health complications like heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke. Not only do these fish not experience complications from diabetes, but they can live as long as their surface-dwelling cousins, sometimes longer.
What it means for diabetes
When humans eat, our blood sugar spikes and our pancreas releases insulin to convert that food into energy. When we fast, our blood sugar drops and the pancreas releases glucagon which prompts the liver to release glucose. This is how we naturally regulate our blood sugar. The blind cave fish are unable to regulate their blood sugar in this way, but that doesn’t result in diabetes like it does in humans.
Researchers are still working to understand why these fish are insulin resistant and why they don’t suffer long-term effects of elevated blood sugar like humans do. There could be a key finding here that could lead to advancements in diabetes treatment.