The prevalence of insulin resistance and diabetes has increased in the past decades at an alarming rate in all Western countries and in those countries which are adopting a 'western life style'. This trend suggests the impact of environmental factors such as diet, obesity and physical activity on the pathogenesis of diabetes. However it is known that the prevalence and variation of prevalence, as consequence of environmental changes, it is different in various ethnic groups. Studies conducted in multiethnic populations suggest that some ethnic groups, such as Hispanics or Asian Indians, might have a particular predisposition, possibly on genetic basis, to develop insulin resistance and diabetes, when exposed to adverse conditions. According to the 'thrifty gene' hypothesis, a clustering of different genetic defects or polymorphisms, developed as genetic advantage in some populations, could predispose some ethnic groups to insulin resistance and diabetes in presence of an increased food supply. Multiple mutations, associated with small changes in insulin sensitivity, when combined, may induce a significant reduction in insulin sensitivity. This review deals with the possible relevance of genetic factors in the expression of insulin resistance and diabetes in relation to ethnicity.
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