In 2008, 3 organizations affiliated with the federal government reported that “23.6 million people in the United States have diabetes. Of those, 17.9 million are diagnosed and 5.7 million are undiagnosed and unaware of their diabetes.”1 Now, in 2017, the numbers have risen, indicating that diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions: 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes, but 8.1 million may be undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. About 1.4 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in United States every year. More than one in every 10 adults who are 20 years or older has diabetes. 2
Even more startling is the incidence of prediabetes. In 2008, the estimated number of Americans with prediabetes was 57 million or 1 in 4 adults. Today it may be as high as 80 million or 1 in 3 adults, most of whom may not be aware that they may be on the brink of developing type 2 diabetes. According to an article in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Americans are doing better at treating diabetes than they are at taking steps to prevent it. This is attributable mainly to the fact that nearly 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. To understand how being overweight increases the risk, the article quotes a doctor who uses this analogy: “You have more tissue in your body, so you require more glucose [sugar]. Just as if you have a bigger car, you need more gas.” To process the extra glucose, more insulin is needed. The pancreas can pump out extra insulin to meet the need, but over time, the pancreas eventually reaches its insulin-producing limit. Then one’s prediabetes becomes type 2 diabetes.3
Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. In fact, you can have it for years and not know it. Look for:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination. Excess sugar building up in your bloodstream causes fluid to be pulled from the tissues. This may leave you thirsty. As a result, you may drink — and urinate — more than usual.
- Increased hunger. Without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy. This triggers intense hunger.
- Weight loss. Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, you may lose weight. Without the ability to metabolize glucose, the body uses alternative fuels stored in muscle and fat. Calories are lost as excess glucose is released in the urine.
- Fatigue. If your cells are deprived of sugar, you may become tired and irritable.
- Blurred vision. If your blood sugar is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of your eyes. This may affect your ability to focus.
- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections. It affects your ability to heal and resist infections.
- Areas of darkened skin. Some people have patches of dark, velvety skin in the folds and creases of their bodies — usually in the armpits and neck. This condition, called acanthosis nigricans, may be a sign of insulin resistance.
Type 2 develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as excess weight and inactivity, seem to be contributing factors.
How insulin works
Insulin is a hormone that comes from the gland situated behind and below the stomach (pancreas).
- The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream.
- The insulin circulates, enabling sugar to enter your cells.
- Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in your bloodstream.
- As your blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from your pancreas.
The role of glucose
Glucose — a sugar — is a main source of energy for the cells that make up muscles and other tissues.
- Glucose comes from two major sources: food and your liver.
- Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it enters cells with the help of insulin.
- Your liver stores and makes glucose.
- When your glucose levels are low, such as when you haven’t eaten in a while, the liver breaks down stored glycogen into glucose to keep your glucose level within a normal range.
In type 2, this process doesn’t work well. Instead of moving into your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream. As blood sugar levels increase, the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas release more insulin, but eventually these cells become impaired and can’t make enough insulin to meet the body’s demands.
In the much less common type 1, the immune system destroys the beta cells, leaving the body with little to no insulin.
Researchers don’t fully understand why some people develop type 2 and others don’t. It’s clear, however, that certain factors increase the risk, including:
- Weight. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin. However, you don’t have to be overweight to develop type 2.
- Fat distribution. If your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen, your risk of type 2 is greater than if your body stores fat elsewhere, such as your hips and thighs.
- Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk of developing type 2. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
- Family history. The risk of type 2 increases if your parent or sibling has type 2.
- Race. Although it’s unclear why, people of certain races — including blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans — are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than whites are.
- Age. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45. That’s probably because people tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as they age. But type 2 is also increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults.
- Gestational diabetes. If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing type 2 increases. Women who give birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms) are also at risk of developing type 2.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome. For women, having polycystic ovarian syndrome — a common condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity — increases the risk of diabetes.4
Healthy lifestyle choices are the best way to avoid the onset of diabetes:
- Eat healthy foods and take supplements as needed;
- Be physically active;
- Control your weight: lose excess pounds.
- Read our article Prevent Diabetes / Reverse Diabetes
Click Here To Read Part 2 –> Prevent Diabetes / Reverse Diabetes
1 Type 2 Diabetes Statistics and Facts, January, 2017 http://drc.bmj.com/content/5/1/e000438?cpetoc&hootPostID=24a8d031b0277785d9deb42080c0025a
2 Type 2 Diabetes Statistics and Facts, https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/statistics#1
4 Type 2 Diabetes, Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193