Life Lines

Sled Dogs and Diabetes


I recently wrote about how incredibly athletic sled dogs are, and given the recent weather forecasts for snow around the nation, I decided why not continue? Today, I’ll focus on how similar the physiology of sled dogs is to human physiology (answer: extremely similar), and how this could possibly help two very different kinds of people – athletes and diabetics.

In this video, Dr. Michael Davis of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine is interviewed by Steve Dale about the capacity of a sled dog’s physiology to adapt to extreme stress. He says sled dogs are the greatest athletes around, and it’s not because they can pull tons of weight; it’s because of how much endurance they have. Dr. Davis says these animals have 4-5 times as much endurance as the best human athlete out there! The components of the sled dog’s muscles are incredibly similar to humans, but Dr. Davis says the sled dogs are just way more efficient than we are. (No surprise there.)

Now, for a quick introduction to type 2 diabetes. It is the most common form of diabetes, with millions of Americans having been diagnosed and many more not even realizing they are at risk. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond to insulin, which is necessary for the body to break down sugar into glucose and use it for energy. Dr. Davis says many people who tend to have type 2 diabetes are overweight but muscles from their bodies are unable to use the fat efficiently for energy. (Source: American Diabetes Association)

If researchers are able to study the physiology and muscle capacity of sled dogs, that is, how they manage to use their muscles the way they do, we as humans would be able to mimic that. By studying and learning, we could possibly activate our own muscles in a much more efficient way. This would benefit two types of people at opposite ends of the spectrum. We have the athletes full of endurance who might suddenly be able to run with the sled dogs in the Iditarod (OK, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here). And then we have the folks with type 2 diabetes who might be able to burn fat regardless of insulin levels. Dr. Davis emphasized that the benefits to the human population would be enormous. It would be like reversing obesity!

Photo Credit:
Racing Sled Dog Team Unalakleet Alaska,