5 Facts Most People Don’t Know About Type 2 Diabetes

a lady's hands measuring blood sugar, glucose with a home test to control her diabetes

Let’s talk about one of the most common chronic illnesses in the world.

Although type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, there’re a lot of misconceptions about what it actually does to the body and why it happens. We reached out to diabetes expert Dr. Dorothy Fink, of NYU Langone Endocrine and Diabetes Center, to dispel the most common diabetes myths.

Before we talk about the myths, let’s define type 2 diabetes.

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According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a chronic condition which causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to be higher than normal. This is also called “hyperglycemia.” It’s also known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes.

“It’s defined as having a hemoglobin A1C higher than 6.5 — which is a measure of how much sugar has coated your red blood cells over the last 2-3 months,” says Fink. When your A1C is high, that means your body isn’t processing sugar correctly and too much glucose is in your blood. T2D is usually treated with lifestyle changes, oral medications and insulin injection. Some people try other methods like introducing more oxygen into our body.

 

1.There are many different risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes.

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No one thing causes diabetes, it’s a multifaceted diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the known risk factors (although not all of these will apply to everyone with T2D):

  • Weight: Being overweight or obese.
  • Fat distribution: If your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen.
  • Inactivity: Getting little or no physical activity.
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
  • Race: If you are Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian American.
  • Age: Being 45 or older.
  • Prediabetes: Having a high blood sugar but not high enough to be associated with diabetes, or an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4.
  • Gestational diabetes: Having high blood sugar (diabetic hyperglycemia) during pregnancy.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome: Being a woman with PCOS, which can cause irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, and obesity.

2.Type 2 diabetes is not a deficiency or absence of insulin.

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Unlike type 1 diabetes, where the body does not produce the hormone insulin so it can’t metabolize sugar, T2D occurs when your body does not use the insulin properly.

When you eat, food is converted into glucose for energy. The pancreas releases insulin to regulate the movement of glucose from our blood into cells so they can use it to fuel processes in our body. When you overload the body with sugar, says Fink, our pancreas freaks out and first tries to compensate by making extra insulin. Eventually, it can’t keep up and stops making enough insulin to keep blood sugar down, which is called “insulin resistance.”

“Insulin is like a key that unlocks our cells so glucose can get inside, and people with T2D have the key but they just can’t use it anymore,” says Fink. As a result, the sugar just stays in your blood — which can cause nerve, eye, kidney, and heart problems. If left untreated, it only gets worse over time.

 

3.Insulin resistance isn’t just caused by eating too many sweets.

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Yes, added sugar is one factor, but its just one part of the puzzle.
First of all, sugar comes in many different forms (starches, carbs) that all get broken down as glucose.
“If you eat too many carbs, your body still gets overwhelmed with glucose and has to work extra hard to process all of it,” says Fink.
At some point, the pancreas gets so overworked that it can no longer use the insulin it produces and the pancreas makes less over time.

But it’s more than just your diet that causes these physiological changes in the body. Exercise, weight, pregnancy, and genetic factors all contribute to the body’s metabolism of glucose and contribute to the development of insulin resistance.

4.Genetics play a small role, but a family history doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop T2D.

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“Yes, family history is an unfortunate reality and it will influence risk for T2D but so much prevention can be done in regards to lifestyle and food that are in your control,” Fink says. So while you can’t change your family history, the right lifestyle changes can help you lower your risk.

 

5.You don’t have to be overweight to develop T2D.

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Yes, being overweight is a major risk factor. The overconsumption of sugar and carbohydrates causes weight gain in addition to the pancreas and insulin problems.

But it’s important to note that T2D can occur in anyone of any size. Being overweight isn’t always a precursor to diabetes — sometimes the condition and the weight gain develop together, which is called comorbidity.

Being thin or having a fast metabolism doesn’t make you immune, either. No matter your weight, you can still overload your body and pancreas with too much sugar and cause insulin resistance. These cases aren’t common, but they definitely happen. It’s important for this myth to be dispelled because thin people who rely on processed carbs can be in the prediabetic range or have early-stage T2D and not even be aware of it until they get very sick.

Increasing oxygen in your body has been known to alleviate diabetes symptoms in your body. For more information on this, you can learn more here.

 

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