Type 2 Diabetes is very prevalent in the United States, with 8.3% of American adults and children battling the disease. Even more, 79 million people are estimated to fit the criteria for pre-diabetes (AKA impaired glucose tolerance), which occurs when the body’s cells are in the process of becoming insulin resistant.
Before we get into the risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes, it is important for you to understand how diabetes comes about in the body. Many mechanisms in the body are based on a negative feedback loop, which means that the body detects an absence of something and creates a change to compensate for that absence. With Type 2 Diabetes, the body is making ineffective insulin, and the cells are resistant to it, so the body perceives that there is a need to produce more insulin. The pancreas starts working very hard to produce additional insulin and insulin receptors so quickly, that the body actually produces ineffective insulin and insulin receptors (you’ve heard this before – quality over quantity, right?). At this point, the glucose is still circulating in the blood, so even more insulin and insulin receptors are produced. This creates a vicious cycle in the body and the elevated insulin levels make the patient feel tired, crave carbs and gain weight.
The good news is that diabetes is highly preventable (and even reversible). Just like when we explored breast cancer risk factors, knowing your risk factors is helpful in preventing and controlling the underlying cause of the disease itself.
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors
Risk factor #1: Obesity
There is an obesity epidemic in America. In fact, Type 2 Diabetes was formerly referred to as “adult onset diabetes,” but now so many children are being diagnosed that the term is no longer applicable. Individuals with trunkal obesity (excess weight around the middle) are particularly at risk.
Risk factor #2: Ethnic Background
Diabetes is much more prevalent among Hispanic, Latino, Native American, African American and Native Alaskan backgrounds than the general population.
Risk factor #3: High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is anything over 140/90mm Hg.
Risk factor #4: History of Gestational Diabetes
Women who develop Gestational diabetes while pregnant are at higher risk for developing diabetes later in life. It is also more common for children born from these mothers to develop Type 2 Diabetes in his/her lifetime.
Risk factor #5: Sedentary Lifestyle
This is a huge factor. For this, and so many other health reasons, it is vital that you move your body every day. Dance around the house if you have to!
Risk factor #6: Family History
Individuals with a parent or sibling who’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes have an increased risk for developing the disease themselves.
Risk factor #7: Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Part of the syndrome picture for PCOS is elevated insulin, which increases diabetes risk.
Risks factor #8: Age
People over the age of 45 are at higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.
And…drum roll…this is the biggest risk factor of them all:
Risk factor #9: Diet
The American diet is high in trans fats, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These components of processed foods also increase the risk for obesity, impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetes), and ultimately Type 2 Diabetes. HFCS intake has increased 1000% in the last 40 years. It causes leptin resistance (loss of appetite control) and drives reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, which leads to cancer. By increasing fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fiber and also decreasing high glycemic index/load foods one can substantially decrease their risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
Even though this blog post is about risk factors, one really gratifying area of treatment in my practice is to help reverse pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes with diet and exercise by restoring the foundation of health in the body.
You can give all of the supplements in the world (they are helpful and I do prescribe them) but the most dramatic transformation occurs when the foundation of health is restored through diet and exercise. When it comes to your health, knowledge is power. Knowing your risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes will empower you to give your body what it needs to prevent and treat the underlying cause of the disease and work toward optimal health.
Image Credit: Victoria Peckham