Type II 2 diabetes is a chronic disease, but contrary to popular belief it is not caused by eating too many sweets. Although we still don’t know exactly what causes type II diabetes, we can tell patients that there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the risk of developing it. There are two main categories of risks associated with the metabolic disorder, those risks that you can keep under control (controllable) and those that you have no control over (uncontrollable). The more risk factors a patient possesses, the higher the risk for developing type II diabetes.
Let’s begin by addressing the controllable risk factors, those factors related to a patient’s lifestyle that can be changed, such as diet and exercise. Even people at high risk for developing diabetes can reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes by taking control of the choices they make every day.
- Weight. More than 80 percent of patients who develop type II diabetes are overweight or obese. Excess weight around the midsection and abdomen greatly increases the risk. Genetics determine where an individual’s body stores fat, but the individual can lose and control their weight regardless of genetics. Ask your physician about calculating waist-to-hip ratio to find out more about your body shape and how to improve it. You can decrease your risk with each pound you lose. In fact, dropping just 10% of your body weight (25 pounds for someone who weighs 250 pounds) can have major benefits.
- Activity level. Individuals who are physically inactive are at a higher risk of developing type II diabetes. Without regular, consistent exercise at least three times weekly, you’re increasing your risk.
- Medications. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications can increase a person’s risk of developing type II diabetes. Those who are already at high risk should talk to their physician about alternative medications for their conditions.
- Alcohol consumption. Individuals who consume more than two alcoholic drinks daily are at risk of permanently damaging the pancreas. Alcohol impairs the pancreas’ ability to secrete insulin, which can result in type II diabetes. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day (women) or two drinks per day (men).
- Smoking. If lung disease, cardiac disease, and cancer aren’t scary enough to quit smoking, consider the fact that smokers are 50 percent to 90 percent more susceptible to developing diabetes than nonsmokers. Smoking can increase blood sugar levels, damage the pancreas, impair the body’s ability to use insulin, and trigger a variety of other health problems. Smokers need to quit the habit today to reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes as well as other life-threatening illnesses.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors are those factors that may put an individual at risk for developing type II diabetes, and although there is nothing you can do to control them, it’s still important to know if you are within any of these high-risk categories.
- Age. An individual’s risk of developing type II diabetes increases as we get older. Diabetes most commonly affects people over age 40, and the risk increases for people over age 65. Individuals over age 45 should be tested for diabetes every three years.
- Health history. Women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 50 percent higher risk of developing type II diabetes within 10 years of giving birth. Delivering a baby that weighs nine pounds or more also increases a woman’s risk to develop diabetes. Pre-diabetes and any condition that impedes the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, such as pancreatitis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, vascular disease (including heart attack or stroke). Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and metabolic syndrome.
- Family history of diabetes. Some evidence points to a genetic component that diabetes runs in families. If a parent or sibling develops type II diabetes, your risk increases.
- Race. African Americans, American Indians, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans are at high risk for developing type II diabetes.
Whether or not you fall into one or many of these categories or none at all, it is important to adhere to a lifestyle that incorporates the controllable risk factors mentioned above. Healthy lifestyle habits can help an individual reduce their chances of developing type II diabetes, even if the uncontrollable risk factors apply.
By becoming aware of the risk factors and working on changing high risk behaviors, you can avoid type II diabetes and other health problems. Repeated studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight and participating in physical activity at least three times a week can reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes by almost 60 percent. Make sure to work with your physician to develop a diabetes risk-reduction plan that fits your needs and medical status.
For additional information or help, talk to your physician or health care provider, or contact South Florida Medical Research. The American Diabetes Association’s national call center provides live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383).