June 19 (UPI) -- People at risk for Type 2 diabetes as adults might start to show signs of the disease as early as 8 years old, a study published Friday by the journal Diabetes Care found.
At that age, common signs of Type 2 diabetes, such as reduced HDL cholesterol levels and elevated LDL cholesterol levels, begin to appear, the researchers said.
By age 16, other warning signs such as increased inflammation and levels of amino acids in the blood are also apparent, they said.
"Diabetes is most common in older age, but we see signs of disease susceptibility very early on -- about 50 years before it's usually diagnosed," study co-author Joshua Bell said in a statement.
"Knowing what these early signs look like widens our window of opportunity to intervene much earlier and stop diabetes before it becomes harmful," said Bell, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol in England.
More than 30 million adults in the United States have type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Most people were well into their 40s by the time they were diagnosed, research indicates.
Bell and colleagues conducted the research among more than 4,000 young people enrolled in the Children of the 90s project -- a health study established at the University of Bristol.
Participants were generally free of Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases, in order to see how early in life susceptibility to adult diabetes becomes visible, they said.
The researchers measured genetic risk scores for Type 2 diabetes development as an adult against metabolism measurements from blood samples taken from study participants at ages 8, 16, 18 and 25.
They combined genetic information with an approach called "metabolomics," which involves measuring many small molecules in a blood sample to try and identify patterns that are specific to early stages of Type 2 diabetes development.
"We knew that diabetes doesn't develop overnight," Bell said. "What we didn't know is how early in life the first signs of disease activity become visible and what these early signs look like."
The early-life changes in cholesterol levels -- as well as the other metabolic changes spotted in teens -- all "widened" as the study participants aged, the researchers said.
That said, the findings indicate "susceptibility" for Type 2 diabetes rather suggesting that children "already have adult diabetes," Bell said.
"These findings help reveal the biology of how diabetes unfolds," he said. "This is important because we know that the harmful effects of blood glucose, such as on heart disease, are not exclusive to people with diagnosed diabetes, but extend to a smaller degree to much of the population."