Avoid The Chance of Getting Type 2 Diabetes
By Sara Colman Carlson, RDN, CDE, Balanced Habits Head RDN
Avoiding type 2 diabetes means changing your lifestyle by losing weight, eating healthy, exercising and managing your blood pressure.
Most of us can also identify at least one family member or friend who has type 2 diabetes and could have prevented it. Memories may include watching blood sugar checks with a glucose meter, or taking insulin shots or pills. Or perhaps something more frightening like a foot amputation, dialysis treatments or blindness. It’s a disease you want to avoid. But how can you avoid developing diabetes? Or at least decrease your chance of developing it?
Let’s look at Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) causes, risk factors and what we know about prevention. T2DM is a progressive disease that can be present for years before diagnosed. Fortunately today there is more screening for prediabetes to help identify people at risk for developing T2DM.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Insulin resistance is one of the primary defects linked to developing T2DM. Cells become less sensitive to insulin. As a result, glucose stays in the blood instead of going into the cells, causing abnormal glucose and fat metabolism. Symptoms may occur gradually and become more obvious over time. Symptoms include fatigue, excessive thirst, frequent urination and high blood sugar (glucose) levels.
A whole cascade of events contribute to diabetes development. Cravings for high carbohydrate foods leads to higher intake of carbs, which contributes to higher blood sugar levels. Hunger increases, contributing to overeating and weight gain, especially abdominal fat. Weight gain worsens insulin resistance. Blood sugar continues to rise. Beta cells in the pancreas are forced to make more insulin to handle the high glucose. Eventually the overworked beta cells start burning out. There are fewer cells so less insulin is made. Eventually, glucose levels stay above normal range.
Diabetes often comes with additional health issues like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease with increased chance of heart attack and stroke.
Certain risk factors are associated with diabetes.
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity (abdominal obesity or apple shape)
- Family history
- Older age
- History of gestational diabetes
Not all people with obesity develop diabetes, and not all people with T2DM are obese. The combination of obesity and genetics work together to increase risk of developing T2DM. The first three risk factors listed above can be changed, so that’s where the focus is in preventing or improving T2DM.
Physical activity makes muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. As a result more glucose goes into the cells and blood levels go down. Intense exercise is not required. Studies show that even walking for 30 minutes helps improve insulin sensitivity.
Weight loss helps treat insulin resistance. Eating fewer calories and carbs results in lower blood sugar levels. As a result less insulin is needed so less is produced. This in turn helps with weight loss and may help control hunger. Even a small 5% weight loss is enough to turn around insulin resistance. (That’s about 8 pounds if you weigh 160.)
Treatment and avoiding prediabetes and diabetes includes lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, physical activity and management of blood pressure and blood fats if elevated. Carbohydrate counting, lower fat intake, and calorie restriction for weight loss are part of the treatment plan. Medications that increase insulin sensitivity may be prescribed.
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