About 90-95% of people who have diabetes actually have Type 2 diabetes. This means that their bodies, while producing insulin, do not utilize the hormone very well. Insulin is produced in response to high blood sugar, which occurs upon eating. The insulin acts on insulin receptors, initiating a cascade of events that allow the body to start storing the sugar as starch (and oftentimes, as fat). If the insulin receptors are resistant to the action of insulin, insulin-resistence is the result, as well as heightened blood sugar. The exposure of the body to high levels of sugar often leads to physiological damage, such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and poor blood circulation. If the blood sugar level becomes high enough, it can even result in death.
At least 24 million Americans suffer from diabtes. However, what is also alarming is the approximately 57 million Americans who are pre-diabetic. Quite often, these pre-diabetics are not even aware of their condition, which is indicated by a fasting blood sugar level of 100 - 125. In such cases, the higher than average blood sugar level can easily result in diabetes unless certain preventative measures are taken.
To begin with, how can one know if one is predisposed to developing diabetes? Here are some common risk factors:
- being over the age of 45
- being overweight
- being African American, Hispanic/Latino American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or American Indian
- having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- having high blood pressure (greater than 140/90)
- having low HDL ("good") cholesterol (less than 40 for men or 50 for women), and high triglycerides (250 or higher)
- having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a large baby (over 9 pounds)
- being physically active less than three times a week
How can one prevent the incidence of developing diabetes?
Ideally, one should try to maintain a healthy weight. If overweight, it is best to incorporate regular exercise. For example, one might try walking 2.5 hours per week, or some other such activity. In a study published by the Diabetes Prevention Program, 3,000 individuals with blood sugar levels at or just below the diabetes range were provided with either a placebo, metformin (a drug that lowers blood sugar), or instructed in certain lifestyle changes, such as weight loss by exercising 2.5 hours per week. This exercise occurred through walking.
The exercise/weight loss group was found to have the most lowered blood sugar of all three study groups, which cut that group's risk of developing diabetes by at least 50%. Thus, the key to diabetes prevention is weight loss combined with a steady regimen of exercise.