The findings have been presented in a study from Lund University in Sweden, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"It was surprising to find such a clear link to the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as to breast cancer. Obesity is a common risk factor for all three conditions, but the connection with neurotensin is not explained by obesity or other known risk factors", says Professor Olle Melander from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University, who is also a consultant at Skåne University Hospital.
"This is the first time a satiation hormone has been linked to these three common diseases in women. It therefore opens up a new field for continued research on risk assessment and preventive treatment", says Professor Marju Orho-Melander from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University, one of the authors of the study.
It is interesting that the findings apply specifically to women. In the case of breast cancer this is obvious, but a better understanding of the development of cardiovascular disease in women is greatly needed.
The connection between neurotensin and these conditions in women was seen to be so strong that it has a clear impact on the patient's life expectancy. The strong connection also means it is appropriate to use neurotensin as a clinical risk marker for the conditions, in the view of the researchers. This provides new opportunities for early identification of women who are likely to develop cardiovascular disease, which cannot be predicted with the current known risk factors. This makes it possible to initiate preventive treatment at an early stage.
"Because the hormone circulates around the body in the blood, levels can be measured with a normal blood test, which is an advantage", explains Olle Melander.
The results were obtained through analysis of blood samples from over 4 600 people who took part in the Swedish population study Malmö Diet and Cancer.
The participants gave blood samples over several years and the researchers saw a link between the level of neurotensin and the women who went on to develop one of the three diseases.
A low-fat diet reduces neurotensin production and could therefore be one way to regulate neurotensin levels, believe Olle Melander and Marju Orho-Melander.
However, they point out that if neurotensin is to work as a target for treatment, a causal relationship must first be established. They hope to be able to identify this relationship through genetic studies that are currently underway.