Carbon Monoxide a Possible Treatment for Gastroparesis in Diabetics

Diabetics suffering from the uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous condition known as gastroparesis, have had little effective treatment to help them. Inhalation of small amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) may be their answer, as it has recently been shown to reverse gastroparesis in diabetic mice.

When food is digested very slowly, or not at all, leaving undigested food in the stomach for long periods of time, this is known as gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying. It’s believed to occur most often when the “vagus nerve,” which controls stomach contractions, is damaged, leading to improper function of the stomach and intestines. Stomach spasms, weight loss and nausea are some of the prime characteristics of gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis is particularly troublesome for diabetics, because the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine releases insulin, and when this mechanism is slowed or unpredictable, it is also difficult to control insulin levels, and therefore blood glucose. In other words, because of a lack of insulin, diabetics with gastroparesis are much more likely to suffer from abnormally high blood glucose levels.

Based on past research which linked gastroparesis to increased oxidative stress levels, the researchers hypothesized that CO might effectively battle both gastroparesis and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a condition which many diabetics and individuals with cardiovascular disease, suffer from as well.

Two groups of diabetic mice with gastroparesis were analyzed in the study, those inhaling low levels of CO (100 parts per million) for six hours per day, and those not. Within three weeks, gastroparesis was reversed in the diabetic mice inhaling CO, as well as improved oxidative stress levels. Concludes lead investigator Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, “this is a significant finding, as it shows that loss of the enzyme that makes carbon monoxide is the actor in this process and that it provides us with a clear approach toward a possible new therapy for this condition.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Farrugia, Gianrico. Tieder, Amy. Mayo Clinic news release. June 2009.