How to avoid diabetes, knowing the risk factors

Risk factors

Risk factors

Diabetes is sometimes thought of as a disease to be taken lightly, but in reality it is a highly complex group of diseases with a multitude of causes.  Learning how to get diabetes will not only help prevent you from forming the disease, but also help to give you a better idea on how to manage it if you already have it.

How To Get Diabetes — The Science

In order to form diabetes, your blood glucose only needs to get high enough.  This is commonly referred to as ‘high blood sugar’ or ‘hyperglycemia’ and affects the metabolism, or the way in which the body utilized digested food to produce energy.  In a normal-functioning body, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream where insulin helps the body turn it into energy.  In a diabetic, insulin is not produced in significant amounts or if it is, cells do not respond to it.

This causes the glucose in the blood to build up since it is not being absorbed by cells for energy creating diabetes, the state of cellular energy starvation despite the fact that blood glucose levels are high.  This high level of blood glucose eventually starts to damage blood vessels and nerves which causes:

•    Heart disease
•    Stroke
•    Kidney disease
•    Blindness
•    Dental disease
•    Amputations
•    Increased susceptibility to other diseases
•    Loss of mobility with aging
•    Depression
•    Pregnancy problems

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2, with a third type (gestational diabetes) developing strictly during pregnancy.  A few other types of diabetes occur due to defects in specific genes, diseases of the pancreas, certain drugs and chemicals, infections or other conditions, but generally, when you hear about diabetes, you’re talking about Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

How to Get Diabetes — Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system destroys beta cells in the pancreas.  These are the cells that produce insulin and the result is a lack of insulin production.  Typically, the body would attack bacteria and viruses which are harmful to the body, but with autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.

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While cellular destruction takes many years to occur, symptoms for Type 1 diabetes show early on.  Further, while this type of diabetes normally occurs in young adults and children (hence its other name, juvenile diabetes), it can appear at any age.  It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and it is thought that latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) might be a slowly developing kind of type 1 diabetes.  In LADA, diagnosis usually occurs after age 30, but the same beta cell destruction takes place, eventually resulting in the need for insulin shots or an insulin pump to control blood glucose levels.

How to Get Diabetes — The Genetic Component

Unfortunately, genetics plays a huge role when it comes to developing Type 1 Diabetes.  Genes carry instructions for protein formation upon them and are inherited by children from their parents.  These proteins are needed for cellular function and the way in which they are coded (and how they interact with other genes) builds either a barrier against or a susceptibility to diabetes.


Genes that carry instructions for making proteins called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLAs) on white blood cells are linked to the risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes.  Proteins which are produced by HLA genes help determine whether the immune system recognizes a cell as part of the body or as foreign material, in turn affecting the risk for diabetes.

Genetic testing shows which types of HLA genes a person carries and can shed light upon other genes which are linked to diabetes.  Unfortunately, this type of testing needs to be performed in the lab and doctors are still looking at how it helps prevention and treatment of diabetes.

Environmental Factors

Many studies are now confirming what scientists have thought for a long time: that environmental factors play into how to get diabetes.  For instance, foods, viruses and other toxins are known to play some type of role in the development of Type 1 Diabetes, but just which role and how large of a role it plays is as of yet undetermined.

One theory is that the outside influences trigger the autoimmune destruction of beta cells in people who have a genetic disposition towards developing diabetes.  Another theory professes that environmental influences play a direct and ongoing role in the ailment.

Viruses and Infections

Since viruses cannot cause diabetes on their own, the fact that people are sometimes diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes after or during a viral infection suggests some sort of link.  Adding to this is the fact that most diabetes onset occurs during winter, a time when viral infections are prevalent.  This includes viruses such as:

  • Coxsackievirus B
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Rubella
  • Mumps
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Infant Feeding Practices

Infant nutrition is thought to play some part in how to get diabetes, but what role is still uncertain.  Currently, it is thought that those babies who are breast-fed receive more Vitamin D which is beneficial to preventing diabetes than those babies who receive cow’s milk.  Cow’s milk is thought to contribute to Type 1 Diabetes, but more studies are needed.

How to Get Diabetes — Type 2 Diabetes

As for Type 2 Diabetes, the combination of factors is even greater.  When looking at how to get diabetes of the second type, it’s important to note that this is the most common form of diabetes.  Factors for causation are generally accepted to include insulin resistance, the condition of where the body’s fat, muscle and liver cells do not properly use insulin.  Type 2 Diabetes manifests itself when a person can no longer produce enough insulin to counteract the body’s inability to use insulin effectively.

While Type 2 Diabetes’ onset can be subtle and gradual, this is generally not a good thing since the body receives damage for years before diagnosis.   For this reason, diabetes is most often found in middle-aged or older people, mostly those who are obese or overweight.  Unfortunately, as the childhood obesity epidemic increases, more and more children and adolescents are now being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

In general, it is held that environmental factors and genetic disposition are the two reasons most people develop Type 2 Diabetes.

Genes and Exercise

Due to studies in families and identical twins along with wide variations in diabetes prevalence by ethnicity, scientists know that genetics play a key part in Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians, Hispanics/Latinos, and some Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islander Americans than it does in non-Hispanic whites.

While many genes remain unknown, known genes that cause Type 2 Diabetes affect insulin production rather than insulin resistance.  For instance, the TCF7L2 gene increases susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes, leaving those with the gene at an 80% higher risk than  those who do not carry the gene.    Still, exercise and diet can overcome these powerful odds, so with the right mindset, will and diet, Type 2 Diabetes does not have to be purely genetic.

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