Obesity is the leading lifestyle risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Excess fat causes the breakdown of fat stored within the body’s cells. This breakdown deposits fatty acids into the cellular fluid. In healthy people, their muscles remove these fatty acids, but in obese people, the acids build up and cause insulin resistance and diabetes. Despite the science, 59 percent of Americans don’t realize that being overweight can increase their chances of developing the disease.
Sleep habits impact diabetes risk, according to a new University of Chicago study. When you don’t get enough sleep, your blood sugar levels rise and your sensitivity to insulin decreases.
Race plays a role in diabetes risk. If you’re African American, Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islander, you’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people of European backgrounds. Some scientists speculate that a “thrifty genotype”—a genetic code causing the body to store more weight and nutrients due to ancestral famine—could cause non-whites to become more obese, in turn leading to diabetes. Others theorize that socio-economic status could be a factor.
Age correlates with diabetes diagnoses. Roughly 11 percent of Americans above age 20 have diabetes, and 23 percent of people older than 60 have the disease. Researchers speculate that the natural dysfunction of mitochondria—your cells’ power plants—during aging leads to insulin resistance and decreased insulin production in older people.
Being a man puts you at greater risk for diabetes. According to a British study published inOccupational Health, men between the ages of 35 and 54 are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes than their female counterparts.
Stress increases your risk of developing diabetes if it leads to burnout, a psychological term for extreme emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness. A study of 677 employed men and women found that those who eventually “burned out” were 1.86 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who felt less stressed. Dutch researchers have also shown that exhaustion causes insulin resistance—a risk factor for type 2—in otherwise healthy men.
Thick blood may increase your risk of diabetes: In a Johns Hopkins study, people with the most viscous blood were 68 percent more likely to develop the disease. Why? Slow-flowing blood may delay the delivery of insulin to cells, raising your blood sugar and fooling your pancreas into producing more of the hormone. Over time, your pancreas may be unable to keep up with the demand, leading to diabetes. Ask your doctor to test your hematocrit, a gauge of blood viscosity. If your hematocrit is above 52 percent, it signifies an increased risk of diabetes.
Low testosterone levels can increase your diabetes risk, according to research from Johns Hopkins University. A study of about 14,000 men showed that those with the lowest testosterone levels were more than four times more likely to have diabetes than men with the highest levels.
Genes have been identified as risk factors for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Research shows that most people with type 1 diabetes share genetic markers called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles, which are related to immune system function. Mutations in the insulin gene have also been linked to type 1. And studies have revealed that variants on the TCF7L2 gene are five times more common in people with type 2 diabetes than in the nondiabetic population. It’s thought that this gene somehow inhibits insulin production.
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