November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Are You at Risk?
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to pay attention to one of the developed world’s biggest public health problems: diabetes. Diabetes type 1 is genetic, and there’s little you can do about it. If you’re an adult, and you don’t already have it, your chances of developing diabetes type 1 are very low indeed.
Diabetes type 2, however, is acquired during adulthood. It results from a complex interaction between genetic factors and your lifestyle, which impacts your metabolism and autoimmune responses. Over time, your body develops resistance to insulin, and your pancreas produces less of it. This raises your blood sugar, putting you at a much greater risk of heart disease, strokes, blindness from retinopathy, and other serious problems.
In the United States, 90% of diabetes cases are type 2. It’s reached the level of a public health epidemic. But the good news is that diabetes type 2 is completely preventable. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough exercise, and eating a balanced diet can greatly reduce your risk of diabetes type 2. If you’re already at risk, or beginning to show signs of prediabetes, there’s still time to change your life and protect your health.
What Causes Diabetes Type 2?
Diabetes type 2 is nearly always the result of obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and a long history of an unhealthy diet. It doesn’t develop overnight, but over years of living an unhealthy lifestyle, your body’s natural insulin regulation suffers.
Having a family history of diabetes puts you at greater risk of developing the disease. The disease involves many genes, which individually make small contributions to your overall risk. However, the disease is partly heritable: if one identical twin has diabetes, the other twin has a 90% chance of also developing the disease. For non-identical siblings, the rate is 25-50%. Over 36 genes have been identified as contributing factors to diabetes type 2, but together, these genes are still estimated to account for less than 10% of the heritable component of the disease. The genetics underlying diabetes type 2 are quite complex.
However, along with genes, lifestyle is the main contributor to diabetes type 2. Lifestyle factors, especially smoking and those that contribute to obesity, are the main reason why so many people are developing this disease. The good news is that changing your lifestyle can have a profound effect on your weight and health, greatly reducing your chances of developing diabetes.
Lifestyle Factors in Diabetes: Changing Your Habits to Protect Your Health
Your lifestyle makes a big difference in your risk of diabetes -- especially your diet and your activity level. High calorie diets, especially those high in sugar, contribute to diabetes, as does a lack of regular exercise. This is largely because these factors contribute to obesity, but there are also more complex interactions between different types of food and your diabetes risk.
Diet & Diabetes: Too Many Calories, Too Much Sugar, and Too Many Trans Fats
Dietary factors have a strong and undeniable link with diabetes type 2. Part of it is that a poor diet can promote obesity, but it’s actually more complicated than that. Certain types of food may increase your risk more than others. Certain types of dietary fats can increase your risk of developing reduced insulin sensitivity. Certain fatty acid biomarkers in the body, which reflect a high fat diet, have been shown to correlate with diabetes.
Another contributor to diabetes risk is the consumption of soda and other sugary beverages. This is partly because they contribute to weight gain and obesity. A single can of soda can put you over the World Health Organization’s guidelines for daily sugar intake, which is bad for your health. Soda and other sugar-laden drinks -- including fruit juice, which is marketed as a healthy choice -- contain a lot of calories, but aren’t very filling, making you more likely to consume too much and gain weight. However, sugar does appear to have effects on diabetes risk that are independent from weight gain.
By reducing your intake of refined sugar and trans fats, you can reduce your risk of diabetes. However, the most important factor is weight loss.
Obesity & Diabetes: How Body Fat Disrupts Your Metabolism
Obesity is the number one contributing factor to diabetes type 2. If you’re more than 20 pounds overweight, your risk skyrockets. By losing the extra weight, you could greatly reduce your chances of developing diabetes.
Believe it or not, the fat itself has profound effects on your body and your metabolism. Adipose tissue, better known as fat, isn’t just an inert storage vessel. Its presence impacts your body’s entire metabolism by disrupting your endocrine system. By throwing off your leptin levels, it affects how quickly you get hungry, and how long you feel satiated after eating. This makes you more likely to start gaining even more weight. Substances from adipose tissue also affect your insulin sensitivity and inflammatory responses, making you susceptible to diabetes. It even affects gene expression of genes that are involved in diabetes.
Simply losing weight, and maintaining a healthy body weight and body fat percentage, can do a lot to reduce your diabetes risk.
Lifestyle Changes Can Prevent Diabetes
It’s important to protect yourself from developing type 2 diabetes. Even if you have a family history of the disease, you can prevent it from developing by staying healthy. Eating a balanced diet with the right number of calories for your activity level can help, especially if you avoid sugar and trans fats. Getting some moderate exercise regularly can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Weight loss is the key to diabetes prevention, and it’s never too late to make that commitment to yourself.