Type 2 diabetes is an illness that can frequently be prevented. One theory that aims to explain how type 2 diabetes develops is referred to as the two-hit hypothesis. Basically, this theory is based upon most patients with type 2 diabetes having both a genetic predisposition (the first hit) and environmental factors (the second hit) that lead to the development of the disease.
There is not much you can do about your genetics, but the good news is that there are significant measures you can take to prevent progression to full-blown diabetes. Several risk factors for type 2 diabetes — and what you can do to help control them — follow.
Taking charge of lifestyle factors such as what you eat and how much exercise you get on a daily basis is crucial in preventing the progression towards diabetes.
People who develop type 2 diabetes generally have a genetic predisposition that makes their bodies susceptible to having either a desensitized response to insulin or the production of less insulin. Over time, if this trend continues, you will develop type 2 diabetes. One of the best ways to avoid this desensitized response, therefore, is to closely monitor your diet and fitness level, making healthful nutrition choices and increasing your overall activity.
It is important to avoid having consistently elevated blood sugars. When blood sugar is high, your pancreas is forced to produce extra insulin to try to reduce blood sugar. This can result in two separate problems. First, your pancreas can become burned-out over time and begin producing less insulin.
Second, your body can become desensitized to the effects of insulin. This can also result in a negative feedback loop, where more and more insulin is required to reduce blood sugars, thus desensitizing your body further to the effects of insulin and burning out your pancreas.
The most logical way to prevent this from happening — especially if you have a family history of diabetes — is to try to eat foods that have a low glycemic index, or foods that are known not to have as profound an effect on blood sugar, such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. Eat fewer foods with a high glycemic index, such as white bread, potatoes and white rice, and limit foods and drinks with a high-sugar content — cookies, cakes and pies, candy and sweet juice drinks and sodas.
Exercise also pays a major role in preventing the progression of diabetes. During exercise, receptors in your muscle help to pull extra sugar out of your bloodstream. This results in a form of assistance to the pancreas, as less insulin is required to reduce blood sugars down to normal levels. Also, after exercise, muscles continue to require energy to recover, which results in continued help to the pancreas by pulling more sugar out of the bloodstream.
So, whenever possible, walk instead of driving a car or taking a bus or taxi, ride a bicycle, find a sport that you enjoy, take an exercise class, go to the gym — just get moving. Your body will benefit.
During times of increased stress, a hormone called cortisol is released at higher levels than normal. If you have diabetes, having higher levels of cortisol is potentially dangerous. Cortisol hinders insulin by encouraging higher blood sugar while at the same time stimulating the production of more sugar by the liver during a process called gluconeogenesis. In addition, cortisol has been found to weaken the immune system by reducing the effectiveness of specific cells called T lymphocytes. This can also be harmful to people with diabetes, who are at an increased risk of infection.
It’s uncommon to have difficulty controlling your level of stress. Stressful situations are inevitable, whether you’re driving, working, going to school or staying at home. You may not always be able to change the circumstances that cause you stress, but it’s important to monitor how you react to stress and to try to reduce it in healthy ways.
A stress-reduction technique, called breathe to relax, follows. This breathing technique can lead to a slight reduction in both your blood pressure and your heart rate, thus reducing anxiety and stress.
While taking in a deep breath, place one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your stomach. To keep deep breaths properly, the hand on your stomach should extend further out than the hand on your chest. Many people, upon taking deep breaths, take shallow breaths, which is reflected by the hand on your chest rising further out than the hand on your stomach. However, it is more effective to take deep breaths to reduce stress if the hand on your stomach extends further out than the one on your chest.
Although this seems like a simple technique, it may actually be difficult to learn because it is more natural for you to take deep breaths by extending your chest wall. You can practice this technique during times when you are not stressed, so you can use it more successfully during times when you are stressed.
Although lifestyle changes may seem small and insignificant in preventing the larger problem of type 2 diabetes, when the changes are combined they can all provide a significant benefit. It could take weeks, months, even sometimes years, to make a full change. Be patient with yourself when trying to implement these changes, and know that even small changes when combined over time can have a huge benefit.