The number of people suffering from diabetes is increasing at a rapid speed, with Type 2 diabetes being the most common form. But you don’t have to sit back and wait to see if you’ll be among the rising statistics. You can do a lot to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
The World Health Organization estimates that 90 percent of diabetics around the world have Type 2 diabetes.
In the United States, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in 2015. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 30.3 million American adults, or 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes in 2015. Of those, 23.1 million were diagnosed and 7.2 million were undiagnosed.
In addition, 84.1 million Americans age 18 and older had prediabetes in 2015, according to the ADA. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with prediabetes are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia.
Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which helps cells convert glucose from the food you eat into energy. In Type 2 diabetes, the body makes insulin, but the cells are not able to use it properly. This is known as insulin resistance.
In the beginning, the pancreas works harder to produce more insulin to ensure glucose enters the cells. But with time, this can damage cells in your pancreas. Eventually, your pancreas may not be able to produce any insulin.
In both cases, whether your body is not producing enough insulin or your body doesn’t use it efficiently, glucose builds up in your bloodstream. This leads to a high blood sugar level and Type 2 diabetes.
To date, experts are not sure what exactly triggers this series of events. However, a combination of factors can cause Type 2 diabetes, including genes, extra body weight, metabolic syndrome, too much glucose from your liver, bad communication between cells and broken beta cells.
Signs and Symptoms
Type 2 diabetes causes a variety of symptoms that develop slowly. The symptoms are usually mild in the beginning, so most people ignore them. But paying attention to early symptoms is crucial to curbing or preventing this condition.
Some of the early symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are:
- Increased hunger.
- Lack of energy and constant fatigue.
- Sudden weight loss/gain.
- Excessive thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Dry mouth.
- Itchy skin.
- Blurry vision.
As the disease progresses and your blood sugar level remains high for a long time, you may experience symptoms including:
- Recurring yeast infections.
- Slow-healing cuts or sores.
- Dark patches on your skin.
- Foot pain.
- Feelings of numbness in your extremities (neuropathy).
Undiagnosed or poorly managed Type 2 diabetes can lead to several health complications, some of which can even be life-threatening.
Some potential complications are heart and blood vessel disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage (nephropathy), eye damage, foot damage, hearing impairment, poor skin health and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.
As Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common, it’s important to know the risk factors. There are certain risk factors that you cannot control. However, many lifestyle factors can be reduced or eliminated entirely with time and effort, lowering your risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Some of the risk factors you can’t control are:
- Age: 45 or older.
- Gender: Men are at slightly higher risk than women.
- Family: A parent, sister or brother has diabetes.
- Ethnicity: People belonging to certain ethnic groups like African-American, Alaskan Native, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander-American are at higher risk.
- Heart and blood vessel disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Low level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or the “good” cholesterol).
- High level of triglycerides.
- Being overweight.
- Delivering a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
- Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Acanthosis nigricans.
Some lifestyle risk factors that you may be able to change include:
- Extra body weight, especially belly fat.
- Sedentary lifestyle, meaning you get little or no exercise.
- Eating too much junk food.
- Too much stress in your life.
- Smoking or regular exposure to secondhand smoke.
Now that you know the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, you can take steps to ward off this common disease.
Here are the key tips to prevent developing Type 2 diabetes.
1. Eat Healthy and Get More Fiber
Eating healthy is one of the most important steps that you can take to lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes.
You must follow a diet that is high in fiber. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts.
A 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that U.S. black women at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes can cut their risk in half by eating a high-fiber diet that provides healthy fats, whole grains and healthy protein.
However, one gets the benefit only when the diet is accompanied by regular exercise of 30 minutes a day.
To reduce your risk:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and opt for leaner cuts of meat and poultry. Choose healthy unsaturated fats.
- It’s not only what you eat but also how much you eat that matters. Be careful about portion sizes and try to eat 5 or 6 small meals rather than 2 large meals.
- Flavor foods with spices and fresh herbs, rather than unhealthy saturated fat or excess salt.
- Also, try to eat your meals at about the same time every day.
2. Lose Extra Weight
Obesity is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. So, if you’re overweight and want to reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, you must make an effort to lose excess weight.
You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to improve your health. Even losing 10 to 15 pounds can make a big difference.
A 2014 study published in Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome found that body mass index (BMI) is strongly and independently associated with the risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The incremental association of BMI on that risk is stronger for people with a higher BMI than people with a lower BMI.
Maintaining a healthy weight will also reduce your risk of heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and high levels of unhealthy cholesterol.
To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on making little changes to your eating and exercise habits like:
- Cut back on calories and fat.
- Be physically active and exercise most days of the week.
- Burn extra calories by taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking to the store instead of driving.
- Eat a healthy breakfast every day.
- Replace juice and soda with water infused with fresh fruit.
3. Stay Active
Being active is a great way to stay healthy overall as well as reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the coming years.
Regular exercise helps your body be more sensitive to insulin, which in turn helps your body use glucose more effectively and manage your blood sugar levels.
A 2016 study published in the BMJ reports that people who are moderately physically active for 150 minutes a week have a 26 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who are inactive. Higher level of physical activity is associated with an even greater risk reduction.
A 2016 study published in the World Journal of Diabetes highlights the efficacy of walking in preventing Type 2 diabetes and reducing the risk of cardiovascular events and/or mortality.
Regular exercise also helps maintain body weight, another risk factor for diabetes. It also reduces your risk of complications if you already have diabetes.
- Even if you’ve never exercised before, you can find ways to add physical activity to your day. In fact, start with walking, a good exercise for people who are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Strive to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 days a week.
4. Quit Smoking
Those who smoke are more likely to get diabetes. Also, the more cigarettes you smoke, the higher the risk.
Active smoking may cause insulin resistance, a precursor for diabetes. It also deteriorates glucose metabolism, which may lead to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation found cigarette smoking to be an independent and modifiable risk factor for diabetes. Early smoking cessation could decrease the risk to that of nonsmokers in the long term.
Another study published in 2014 in Diabetes Care reports that smoking may be regarded as a modifiable risk factor for Type 2 diabetes and smoking cessation should be encouraged for diabetes prevention.
Furthermore, a 2015 study published in PLOS ONE suggests that cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, which may decrease to the level of a person who never smoked after 10 years of smoking cessation.
Smoking also increases your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, leg ulcers or amputation caused by poor blood flow, eye disease and nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy).