What is diabetes, what causes it and can it be prevented?

In the United States, about 26 million people have diabetes, which is 8% of the population. Type 2 diabetes makes up the majority or 90% of the total number of cases.

What is diabetes?

It is a disease that is characterized by high blood sugar.

Normally, our blood sugar or glucose levels is controlled by a hormone called insulin. Under normal conditions, when our blood glucose levels increase, insulin is produced and released by our pancreas. The released insulin then allows glucose to enter cells where the glucose is converted into energy. This energy in turn is used by the cell to survive and do work, such as allowing muscles to move or making new cells for growth.

Diabetes and the resulting increase in blood sugar occurs when
  1. Our pancreas no longer produces insulin
  2. Or, our pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin
  3. Or, the insulin produced no longer is capable of allowing glucose to enter our cells for processing. This is known as insulin resistance.
 Types of Diabetes

The two types of diabetes are
  1. Type 1 - this type is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. This type occurs when our pancreas produces little or no insulin for glucose metabolism. This condition may occur due to genetics or an exposure to some viruses.
  2. Type 2 - this type is also known as adult-onset or non insulin-dependent diabetes. This condition is the result of either your pancreas not producing enough insulin or your cells are resisting the effects of insulin (insulin resistance). 
Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

The exact cause is unknown. However, contributing factors to developing Type 2 diabetes are an excess weight due to a poor diet and physical inactivity.

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors

These risk factors include
  1. Excess Weight- this is the primary risk factor. This is especially true if you are overweight due to a poor diet. If your pancreas has to constantly work to produce more and more insulin, over time, the cells in your pancreas responsible for producing insulin decrease in number to the point where not enough insulin can be produced by your pancreas. Also, if you have excess fat cells in you body, your cells become more and more resistant to insulin. The net result is a constant increase in your blood sugar.
  2. Abdominal Fat - this is also known as visceral fat. We joke about the beer belly physique, however, large amounts of visceral fat increases your risk for type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  3. Physical Inactivity - adhering to a regular physical fitness routine helps you control your weight, lower your glucose levels and helps your cells to be more responsive to insulin.
  4. Family History - your risk increases if your parents or siblings have type 2 diabetes.
  5. Race - for unknown reasons, blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans have a slightly higher risk for diabetes than American Whites.
  6. Age - your risk increases with age, especially after age 45.
  7. Gestational Diabetes - if you develop gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk for type 2 diabetes increases.
How To Prevent Diabetes

Changing to a more healthy lifestyle greatly increases your chances of preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.
  1. Eating a healthier diet - stay away from alcohol, fatty foods and carefully watch your carbohydrate consumption. Eat foods high in fiber. Fiber is known to help your body control blood glucose levels. Eat a Mediterranean type of diet that is high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. 
  2. Get more exercise - do moderate intensity exercises 30-minutes a day for at least 5 days a week. This can include a brisk walk, cycling or swimming.
  3. Lose excess weight - even a 5% reduction in your weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Aim to lower your weight by 1 pound a week, until you reach your healthy target weight.
  4. Cinnamon has also been shown to help type 2 diabetics normalize their blood sugar levels. Try to use 1 teaspoon of cinnamon each day on fruit and cereals.
This change in lifestyle must be a life long dedication in order to prevent diabetes, and improve your health and fitness levels.

Foods High In Fiber

The following foods are high in fiber and will help you control your blood sugar and weight:
  1. Raspberries, pears and apples
  2. Whole grains like whole wheat, hulled barley, oat bran, steel cut oatmeal and brown rice
  3. Peas, lentils and black beans
  4. Artichoke, broccoli, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, eggplant, okra and Brussels sprouts


Mayo Clinic: " Type 2 Diabetes "
Mayo Clinic: " Type 1 Diabetes "
Mayo Clinic: " High-fiber foods "
MedicineNet: " Diabetes Mellitus "
CNN: " Reversing Diabetes Is Possible "
Oregon State University: " Fiber "
American Diabetes Association: " Diabetes Statistics "
Whole Foods: " Ground Cinnamon