What is type 2 diabetes, and why should you be concerned about your risk of developing it?
Our bodies rely on insulin to move glucose (a type of sugar) from our blood into our tissues for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body can’t use the insulin that is released or does not make enough insulin to help move glucose into cells. This results in a buildup of glucose in the blood. A person with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes is at risk of developing complications, including damage to the heart, kidneys, nerves and eyes.
There are a number of risk factors for diabetes, including genetics, having high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels or being overweight. Your risk also increases with age.
Obesity and being overweight is a significant risk. Fat stored within the abdomen around the organs, called visceral fat, hinders normal function of vital organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. Carrying this kind of fat is linked to insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Inactivity places us at greater risk of type 2 diabetes because less glucose is used as energy, creating problems with weight control and leaving cells less sensitive to insulin.
Having a normal body mass index and engaging in physical activity are the most important factors in preventing diabetes.
Diet is key in maintaining a low risk for diabetes.
- Trading refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice for whole grains can dramatically reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Dietary fiber is also important.
- Cutting out sugary or sweetened drinks, like soft drinks, and opting instead for water, coffee and tea can also help. Sugary drinks not only contribute to weight gain, but also can lead to chronic inflammation, problems with fats and cholesterol levels in your blood, and increased insulin resistance, each of which are diabetes risk factors.
- Avoiding red meat and processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, deli meats) can dramatically reduce your risk of diabetes. A large meta-analysis involving 440,000 people found a 51 percent increased risk of developing diabetes with daily intake of red/processed meats. Those who opted instead for healthier proteins (nuts, poultry, fish) lowered their diabetes risk by up to 35 percent.
Supplements are important allies in protecting against diabetes.
- B vitamins help our bodies make best use of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
- Magnesium deficiency can cause insulin resistance; supplementing with magnesium may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Chromium is required for binding insulin to cell membranes.
Exercise helps the body improve its ability to use insulin and absorb glucose, putting less stress on insulin-making cells. On the other hand, sitting too much and watching too much TV are linked to a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Smoking has also been linked to diabetes risk—along with its obvious connections to cancer and heart disease. If you smoke, do everything you can to stop, and avoid second-hand smoke wherever possible.