By Craig Elding
Did you know there are two types of diabetes?
Medical researchers have conveniently named them diabetes types 1 & 2. Type 1 diabetes is largely a result of genetics and cannot be avoided. Type 2 diabetes is a result of diet and lifestyle and is avoidable1.
Despite this, type 2 diabetes makes up almost 90% of all diabetes cases and is on the rise in much of the world2. This article will explain what type 2 diabetes is, how it occurs, and exactly how it can be avoided.
Type 2 diabetes & insulin
After a meal or snack that includes carbohydrates – such as sugary foods, starches and refined grains that quickly convert to sugar, or fruit or whole grains that convert to sugar more slowly – sugar enters the blood stream at a relatively fast or slow pace, causing blood sugar levels to rise.
As blood sugar levels increase, the body naturally produces a hormone called insulin, which tells cells in muscles and the liver to absorb and store excess sugar in the form of glycogen or fat. The effect of this is to reduce the amount of sugar in the blood, a key source of physiological energy, and thus to help normalize energy levels.
A few hours after eating, blood sugar levels (and insulin levels) will begin to drop, naturally allowing the stored glycogen to be converted back into sugar and released into the blood stream. This sugar storage and release process ensures that the amount of energy available to the body is maintained near optimal levels – and is called homeostasis, meaning ‘single state’.
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by both low production of insulin and reduced sensitivity to insulin in cells. The combined effect is that the body is unable to maintain homeostasis and blood sugar optimization.
As a result, blood sugar levels will dramatically and unnaturally spike after a meal, and then precipitously plummet a few hours after eating. High blood sugar levels are called hyperglycemia and can cause long-term organ damage, whereas low blood sugar levels are termed hypoglycemia and can cause unconsciousness and potentially death.
What specifically causes type 2 diabetes?
Exposing cells to unnaturally high amounts of insulin on a regular basis – for example via the excessive consumption of sugars or refined carbohydrates – can cause cells to become less responsive to insulin’s natural effects and lead to unnaturally high blood sugar levels3. This potential effect of unhealthy eating explains why obesity often precedes the onset of type 2 diabetes.
To combat the unhealthy state of chronically high blood sugar, the body responds by producing more insulin, in an attempt to force cells to absorb and store the excess blood sugar. This increased insulin production generally will work as a short-term strategy, but over time paradoxically and detrimentally causes the body’s cells to become even more insulin resistant.
Without change, this cycle of escalating insulin production and resistance continues. Eventually, this process can exhaust or damage the specialized cells that produce insulin, drastically reducing the body’s ability to produce insulin and store sugar.
The result is an inability to effectively control blood sugar levels – or type 2 diabetes.
How to prevent type 2 diabetes
Fortunately, there are a number of well-understood and proven ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, all involving a healthier and more natural lifestyle:
> Diet – The easiest way to prevent the compounding insulin production and resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes is to avoid high sugar foods and snacks, in particular:
- Sugary drinks
- Bread (especially white)
- Tea/ coffee sweetened with sugar
- Fast food
If sugary foods cannot be avoided altogether, they should at least not be consumed within 4 hours of each other, since it takes this amount of time to normalize blood sugar levels. This means that between meals, sugar sweetened drinks and snacks should be avoided.
A healthy alternative to sugar is stevia, which is a sweet tasting herbal extract which has no calories, and can be added to tea and coffee. Other sweeteners may not be so healthy though, and some can still cause an insulin response similar to sugar.
Reducing sugary foods can also help maintain a healthy weight, which will reduce the risk of obesity and its many negative health effects, in addition type 2 diabetes.
> Exercise – A lack of exercise is thought to be responsible for nearly 10% of all type 2 diabetes cases4. Exercising at least 3 times a week for as little as 30 minutes can greatly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and will improve your overall health too5. In particular, regular exercise helps to reduce high levels of sugar in the blood – attacking the key cause of insulin resistance.
> Sleep – Lack of sleep, or irregular sleep, is strongly linked to developing type 2 diabetes and should be seen as a general signal of health risks. It is important to ensure that you are obtaining approximately 8 hours of sleep each night to promote your overall health and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes6.
> Smoking – Smoking is a well-recognised risk factor for developing insulin resistance and can help to promote type 2 diabetes. Smoking also increases the risk of a number of other forms of health impairment, such as cardiovascular diseases7.
> Alcohol – Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t appear to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but binge drinking and drinking on an empty stomach do8. To reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes from alcohol consumption, drink no more than moderately and only with or during meals.
The majority of type 2 diabetes cases are a result of diet and lifestyle choices. In order to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, it is important to minimise sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption, exercise at least 3 times a week, quit smoking if you smoke, and avoid excessive and binge drinking.
Through these simple steps, you will be able to better control your body weight and blood sugar levels, greatly reduce your type 2 diabetes risks, and enjoy greatly improved health and quality of life overall.
Craig Elding is a natural health advocate and founder of www.thehealthcloud.co.uk. Craig studied Nutrition & Food Science at Reading University in the United Kingdom.
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- B. Caballero. (2013). Sucrose: Dietary Sucrose and Disease. Encyclopaedia of Human Nutrition (Third Edition). 231–233.
- National Health Service. (2012). Diabetes, type 2. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetes-type2/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
- Alexander Yu. Mayorov. (2005). Influence of insulin treatment on insulin sensitivity in insulin requiring type 2 diabetes patients. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 68 (1), S54–S59.
- Lee I-M, Shiroma EJ, Lobelo F, et al. Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet. Published online July 18 2012.
- Sheri R. Colberg. (2013). Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Available: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/12/e147.full. Last accessed 09/07/2013.
- Canadian Journal of Diabetes. (2013). Inadequate Sleep as a Contributor to Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Jessica McNeil, MSc. 37 (2), 103–108.
- L. Radzevičienė. (2009). Smoking habits and the risk of type 2 diabetes: A case-control study. Diabetes & Metabolism. 35 (3), 192–197.
- A. Pietraszek. (2010). Alcohol and type 2 diabetes. A review. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 20 (5), 366–375.