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What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?


The likelihood of a person developing type 2 diabetes is dependent on a variety of risk factors, with some being easier to control than others.

A person can change, or control, some risk factors, such as diet and the amount of exercise they do. However, other risk factors, such as age or a family history of diabetes, are out of their control.

When people are aware of the risk factors that they can manage, they can take action to minimize their likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

Keep reading to learn more about type 2 diabetes risk factors, including what people may be able to do to minimize the risk of developing the condition.

Controlling the following risk factors is especially important if a person has a family history of diabetes.

Overweight and obesity

When a person is living with obesity and has overweight, excess levels of adipose tissue, or body fat, release inflammatory proteins, hormones, and other molecules that can trigger insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance occurs when liver, muscle, and fat cells are no longer sensitive to insulin and stop storing glucose as glycogen.

When this happens, glucose stays in the blood for longer, and blood sugar levels rise. To reduce blood sugar levels, the pancreas produces more insulin to overcome the weak response of the cells.

If a person cannot reverse this process with a change in lifestyle or medication, they will likely develop type 2 diabetes.

Learn more about weight loss for diabetes here.

Smoking

Smoking can increase a person’s risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. People who smoke are 30–40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who do not.

Nicotine can increase blood sugar levels, and people who smoke often need to take more insulin than usual to keep their blood sugar levels within a healthy range.

If someone with type 2 diabetes feels they are ready to quit smoking, they should seek guidance from a doctor first. During a transition to a smoke-free lifestyle, blood sugar levels may drop more than normal, but they will eventually settle down.

Read about how to quit smoking here.

A lack of physical activity

Physical activity has many benefits. In addition to improving cardiovascular and mental health, it can reduce inflammation and insulin resistance.

According to a 2017 review, all forms of exercise, including aerobic and resistance training, can improve blood sugar level regulation and prevent or reverse obesity-associated type 2 diabetes.

In combination with a balanced diet, exercise is one of the first symptom management strategies doctors recommend for people who live with prediabetes or have recently received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Mental health problems

People with diabetes may also live with one or more mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. When people do not receive treatment for these conditions, this can often make diabetes worse.

When someone feels anxious or stressed, they may eat more processed foods and work out less, which could cause blood sugar levels to rise.

Stress hormones themselves can also make blood sugar levels increase or decrease unpredictably.

Learn more about diabetes and stress here.

Some risk factors are beyond a person’s control. Examples include sharing similar genes with family members who have diabetes.

Family history of diabetes

When a person’s parents or siblings have type 2 diabetes, the person is more likely to have the condition themselves. This is also true of cases of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.

If an individual has prediabetes, their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for them to receive a diabetes diagnosis.

Some evidence suggests that when people are aware of a family risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, they change their behaviors so that their risk decreases.

Using family history as a diagnostic tool means doctors can screen people for diabetes before their symptoms show or worsen, which results in better health outcomes.

Age

When people get older, their bodies are not able to metabolize carbohydrates as effectively, which can lead to higher than normal blood sugar levels.

Moreover, muscle, liver, and fat cells also lose sensitivity to insulin, which increases blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

If an older adult is living with obesity, they will likely experience more insulin resistance than someone without the condition. This emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy amount of physical activity well into older age.

Authors of a 2017 review found that regular physical activity and healthy eating are most effective in people with diabetes who are older than 60 years old, because it reduces muscle loss and offsets insulin resistance.

Ethnicity

According to a 2017 study from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian populations are more at risk of type 2 diabetes than white populations. One reason for this may be inequities in healthcare.

Moreover, due to a lack of drug testing in these populations, they may also receive less effective treatments than white people.

While the ADA recommends greater testing in these communities, it is important to note that historically, medical researchers abused their positions and conducted unethical experiments within these communities, which has resulted in a lack of participation in clinical trials.

Learn more about diabetes in African Americans here.

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes that a person can control include smoking and obesity.

However, some risk factors, such as age, are uncontrollable. With age, a person’s body gets less and less efficient at regulating blood sugar levels, which increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

A person has a greater risk of developing the condition if it runs in their family. However, if they follow a balanced diet, keep physically active, and do not smoke, they are likely to keep their blood sugar levels within a healthy range.



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