Type 2 diabetes occurs when we are unable to produce enough insulin in the body. Insulin plays a number of roles which include: energy storage, blood sugar control, brain function regulation and amino acid absorption.
We’re often focused on the role insulin has on managing blood sugar levels. When we consume foods containing carbohydrates, insulin is secreted from the pancreas and opens up the cells to move the sugars from the blood into the cells to be used for energy. However, when insulin levels are low the pancreas has to work overtime in order to remove sugar from the blood. Over a prolonged period of time, the pancreas is unable to keep up with the insulin demands and therefore, may start to become impaired. Prior to type 2 diabetes, one may experience insulin resistance which can be the first stage of the journey to type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is when the cells are less receptive to the amount of insulin secreted. This is ideally when we recommend taking action to prevent the progression into type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, there are a number of factors which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, some of which we can control (and otherwise commonly referred to as modifiable risk factors) and some of which we are unable to control (otherwise known as non-modifiable risk factors). Let’s start at those risks which we can control:
- A high sugar diet – the more sugar we consume, the harder the pancreas has to work to stay up to date with the clearing of sugar from the blood. Constantly consuming more than the recommended daily intake (30g per day) can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes due to high demands for insulin secretion. Where possible try to opt for protein and complex carbohydrate rich snacks over the higher sugar options.
- Physical inactivity – physical activity can help aid insulin sensitivity which means that the cells become more receptive to smaller amounts in insulin and therefore the pancreas doesn’t need to work as hard. As a result, this can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, exercise can help with weight management which is beneficial for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes too.
- Smoking – evidence suggests that regular smoking can contribute to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- High alcohol consumption – alcohol contributes to sugar intake and produces a spike in blood sugar levels. Consequently, this required the secretion of insulin to help regulate blood sugar. Where possible try to limit your alcohol consumption to an absolute maximum of 14 units per week.
The above risk factors are largely things which we have some element of control over. Albeit, this control is definitely not always easy but there are things we can do to help reduce our risks. The following risk factors are non-modifiable so whilst we can’t necessarily change them it’s important to be aware of them. If we fall into these groups we may want to start being more aware of the areas which we can control.
- Age – as awe age we increase our risk of type 2 diabetes. As a result, being aware of our lifestyle and dietary habits later on in life can be particularly important.
- Genetics – there appears to be a genetic link in type 2 diabetes. However, genetic links do not necessarily mean the outcome is inevitable!
- Ethnicity – evidence shows some ethnicities can have increased risk of type 2 diabetes and these include: South Asian, African and Chinese ethnicities may be more prone however, this isn’t to suggest that this is inevitable in these groups of people.
Whilst there are some things we can’t control in life, others we may have a greater part to play. Engaging in a healthy, balanced and active lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.