Did you ever wonder how you got type 2 diabetes? Or if you don’t have it, you may have a parent or relative who is affected by the illness. Understanding the causes and risk factors for diabetes is essential in diabetes management and prevention.
Type 2 Diabetes is an illness wherein the body is unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. There are cases where the pancreas produces insulin, but the body has become resistant to its effects (insulin resistance). The result is diabetes mellitus.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
To understand what causes diabetes, let’s first discuss how insulin works. Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreatic islets (also known as islets of Langerhans). It plays a vital role in metabolizing protein, fats, and carbohydrates by facilitating the absorption of glucose from the blood into the cells.
Glucose is then converted into energy. The beta cells in the pancreas are sensitive to the concentration of glucose in the blood. It is the basis for the secretion of insulin. When blood glucose levels become elevated, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. Conversely, if the levels are low, the secretion of insulin into the bloodstream is stopped.
- In type 2 diabetes, the anatomy (physical structure) and physiology (function) of the pancreatic islets are disrupted. The body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. Cells are unable to use insulin effectively. As a result, glucose isn’t absorbed by the cells; this leads to the increased levels of glucose in the blood.
- If the blood sugar is low, the liver produces and sends out glucose. After eating, blood sugar goes up, and the liver will slow down and store glucose for future use. But in some individuals, this does not happen. The liver keeps sending glucose.
- In some cases, there is a disruption in the signaling system of the cells. This can affect how they utilize insulin and glucose, which can lead to insulin resistance, and eventually, type 2 diabetes.
- The amount of insulin and the timing of its release into the bloodstream are crucial in maintaining the balance of glucose levels in the body. If there is a disruption in this process, it can result in high blood glucose levels. This can damage the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
- Genetics – Your risk of having type 2 diabetes increases if you have a parent or sibling who is affected by it. If both your father and mother have diabetes, your chance of acquiring it is 50%. If one of your parents had diabetes before the age of 50, the risk is 14%. Beyond that age, the risk goes down to 8%.
- Weight – Around 85 % of people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight. The probable reason for this is, the more fats you have, the more resistant to insulin you become.
- Diet – Diet can be a contributory factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Too much consumption of sugary drinks like soda can increase the risk. It is also better to avoid or limit eating foods with high amounts of saturated fats and trans fats.
- Sedentary lifestyle – If you are not physically active, you have a higher chance for the following: type 2 diabetes, being overweight and developing insulin resistance.
- Age – As you get older, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes also increases. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in people aged 40 and above. But in recent years, there is an increasing number of younger people who are also affected.
- Race – For reasons not yet fully understood, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans are more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes when compared to people from other racial backgrounds.
- Pre-diabetes – Also known as borderline diabetes, this condition is characterized by blood sugar levels which are above normal but not raised enough to be labeled as diabetes. If left unchecked, it can lead to full-blown diabetes.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – This is a condition wherein a woman has an imbalance in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. It can cause irregular menstrual periods, ovarian cysts, and fertility problems. It is estimated that around 10 – 15 % of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS.
- Gestational Diabetes – If you developed this condition while you were pregnant, you have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The good news is that a very high proportion of cases clear up or improve significantly after childbirth.
The Negative Effects of High Blood Sugar Levels
Glucose or sugar at normal levels is not bad; it is needed by our body to produce energy. There is a saying that anything in excess is bad. It is true in the case of glucose. The negative effects of too much sugar in the blood are:
- High blood sugar levels can lead to the pancreas being overworked. In the long run, it could permanently damage the pancreas.
- People with elevated glucose levels in the blood carry a higher risk for atherosclerosis – the narrowing and thickening of the walls of the arteries.
- If you have high blood sugar, you have an increased risk for the following: heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, infections, nerve damage, and loss of vision.
Tests to Diagnose Diabetes
- Fasting plasma glucose test – The doctor will instruct the patient not to eat anything 8 hours before taking the test. If the test result is less than 100 mg/dl, it is considered normal. If the result is 100 mg/dl – 125 mg/dl, it means that the person has pre-diabetes. A test result of more than 126 mg/dl means it is already a case of diabetes; a confirmatory test is needed.
- Oral glucose tolerance test – First, a fasting plasma glucose test is conducted. The patient will be given a sugary solution to drink. After two hours, a second test will be performed. A test result of less than 140 mg/dl means it is normal. If the reading is 140 mg/dl – 199 mg/dl, it means that the patient has pre-diabetes. A blood sugar level of 200 mg/dl or higher means a person is diabetic.
- Hemoglobin A1C – This test may be performed to know the average blood sugar level in the past three months. It measures how much sugar is attached to hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells). If the result is 5.6 % or less, it is considered normal. A reading of 5.7 – 6.4 % is classified as pre-diabetes. If the test yields a result of 6.5 % or higher on two separate instances, the person already has diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is an illness in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin, or the body developed a resistance to the effects of insulin (insulin resistance). What is the cause of type 2 diabetes?
A disruption in the physical structure or function of the beta cells in the pancreas can affect how the body uses insulin. The body becomes resistant to its effects. Glucose is not absorbed by the cells, leading to increased levels of glucose in the blood.
The risk factors for type 2 diabetes are genetics, weight, diet, sedentary lifestyle, age, race, pre-diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and gestational diabetes.