Australian researchers have established a link between insulin resistance and low levels of a key molecule found in human cells known as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ).
The "exciting" discovery has led to hope of potential future treatments to prevent pre-diabetes - a precursor to numerous chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"If we can actually find ways to replenish CoQ in humans then we might actually find a way to overcome insulin resistance," said co-author Dr Daniel Fazakerley from the University of Sydney's School of Life and Environmental Science and Charles Perkins Centre.
Although the researchers at the University of Sydney and Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute caution this is just one piece of the puzzle towards achieving such an outcome.
For the study, levels of CoQ and the presence of insulin resistance were analysed in mice and human tissue samples.
"We were interested in trying to understand the causes and what goes on in the body when people become pre-diabetic or insulin resistant," said Dr Fazakerley.
The findings, published in journal eLife, showed concentrations of CoQ were lower in all body fat and muscle tissue resistant to insulin.
When the researchers replenished the CoQ levels, insulin resistance was reversed.
It's thought poor diet is largely responsible for the lowering of CoQ in cells. Although this is not understood at this stage, says Dr Fazakerley.
"Eating a high fat, high sugar diet has long been known to be a major risk factor for obesity and pre-diabetes and our latest work brings us one step closer to understanding how and why," Professor James explained.
Co-author Professor Roland Stocker from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the University of New South Wales says the study shows CoQ supplementation could prove an "invaluable" preventative intervention.
However CoQ oral supplements - found in health food shops and on supermarket shelves - may not be effective because it is very difficult for the body to absorb it, says Professor Stocker.
The researchers are now working on new ways to increase CoQ levels in certain tissues.