Hibernation is an amazing physiological feat. During hibernation, bears’ heart rates slow dramatically. At the same time, their insulin sensitivity is virtually eliminated, a condition similar to diabetes in humans.
“Bears not only look like a diabetic, they’re also obese—massively obese, 40, 50 percent body fat,” said Jansen. That fat helps them survive. In fact, their bodies recycle water that’s produced by burning fat for energy.
“They’re a perfect, self-sustaining unit—as long as they have enough fat,” Jansen said.
Effectively, grizzlies have evolved ways to turn off obesity and diabetes.
“We humans are not so lucky,” says Jansen. “It’s much harder for us to reverse those things.” Using samples from bears’ muscles, liver and fat, the WSU researchers are trying to find out how it’s done.
“These animals can teach us a lot,” said Jasmine Ware, a post-doctoral researcher at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s a matter of unlocking those secrets and applying them to human health.”