Diabetes 101: A Guide to Understanding Risk Factors and Prevention

| 3 min read

Older man talking to his doctor
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in our country. This chronic condition targets people of all ages, genders and ethnicities around the world. However, in taking better care of ourselves, we are able to help drastically lower the instances of type 2 diabetes.
By educating yourself and your loved ones, you can better understand the risk factors and methods of prevention associated with this life-altering condition.

What is Diabetes?

When we digest food, carbohydrates and starches break down into blood sugar, also known as blood glucose. This triggers our bodies to produce insulin, a hormone naturally made by the pancreas to regulate glucose levels in the blood. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t provide enough insulin, or doesn’t provide any at all. As a result, in managing this condition you must not only eat carbohydrates in moderation on a regimented schedule, but ensure your body has enough insulin to compensate. This metabolic condition can be a result of age, race, medical history, genetics, stress, diet and exercise, especially with type 2 diabetes.

What are the Types?

  • Type 1 diabetes: Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes. With this form, the body cannot produce insulin at all. Only 5% of the population is affected by type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: This is the most common form of diabetes. Although there is no cure, type 2 can be managed with exercise, diet and medications (if prescribed). It occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin or the body’s insulin is unable to store excess blood sugar properly. Being overweight impacts the body greatly and is an underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. Remember, type 2 diabetes is preventable with healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Prediabetes: A diagnosis for this condition is given when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed type 2.
  • Gestational Diabetes: This form of diabetes occurs in pregnant women when their body is not producing enough insulin or they are unable to store excess blood sugar. It’s typically diagnosed around week 24, and is subject to all women regardless of their history of diabetes. Women who have gestational diabetes during their first pregnancy are 66% more likely to have it in the future. However, it’s important to note that gestational diabetes can resolve itself post-birth.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors vs. Controllable Factors

When it comes to preventing diabetes, there are certain risk factors that are out of our control. While some are genetically predisposed to diabetes, others can be impacted due to their race, ethnicity, age and medical history. Conversely, there are lifestyle choices that can help to lower the risk of diabetes.
Weight gain is one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, nutritious, well-balanced and portion-controlled meals are important. Be sure to add fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and heart-healthy fats to your everyday diet. Exercise and physical activity are also keys to regulating weight and living a healthy lifestyle. Though many people do not think of high stress and lack of sleep in relation to diabetes, these factors can impact a variety of hormones in the body, which can cause weight gain.
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Photo credit: Fat Camera

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