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The #1 Root of Diabetes, According to Science

Experts explain the cause of diabetes how to prevent it.

The number of people living with diabetes is staggering. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, "34.2 million people, or 10.5% of the U.S. population, have diabetes. An estimated 26.8 million people – or 10.2% of the population – had diagnosed diabetes. Approximately 7.3 million people have diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed." Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explained what diabetes is, what causes it and how to help prevent it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Diabetes and Causes

feet on scale

Dr. Ani Rostomyan, a Doctor of Pharmacy , Holistic Pharmacist and Functional Medicine Practitioner who specializes in Pharmacogenomics and Nutrigenomic says, "Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease which has multifactorial pathogenesis, which means many factors are involved in disease formation, the root cause of type 2 diabetes is only partially understood even in current day's medicine. It is a heterogeneous disease and both genetic and environmental components are involved. The combination of these factors, such as obesity, genetics, some ethnicities, certain unhealthy lifestyles, affect insulin release and responsiveness, causing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is accompanied with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), insulin resistance, and impaired insulin secretion, and it is clear that Western lifestyle and diets attribute greatly to vastly growing numbers in the United States as well. Diabetes is getting younger, affecting more and more teens and young adults as well, which again correlates that lifestyle has a tremendous impact on management and prevention of it."


Insulin Resistance

insulin resistance

Dr. Pri Hennis, M.D. Family Physician and Functional Nutrition Coach explains, "Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease caused by a dysregulation of cell response to insulin. Insulin is endogenous to our body and is created in the pancreas. Insulin helps break down the sugar we eat into energy. In type 2 diabetes cells in the body do not respond normally to insulin over time. This causes a rise in blood sugar in the body leading to blockages of small and large blood vessels and nerves. Although type 2 develops typically as an adult, the rise in obesity in America is causing a rise of type 2 diabetes in the young adults, teens and even children. When getting a new diagnosis of diabetes to prediabetes it is important to start some type of lifestyle change in addition to medications if your doctor suggests. Why, you ask? Diabetes is a progressive disease, and the symptoms and damage of the high blood sugars go on much before the actual diagnosis. For most people, without any other risk factors, it can take 10 years to go from normal blood sugars to prediabetes and then to full blown diabetes. So, what can you do to prevent this? Talk to your doctor about your labs checking for diabetes at least annually, if not sooner. If the numbers are not abnormal yet, put in the work with lifestyle changes, ask for support from your doctor sooner than later. Everyone's journey before and after getting the diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes is different, so it's important to ask for help if you are not seeing results in three months."

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Environmental and Genetic Factors

Woman saying no to chocolate cake dessert

"It comes naturally to blame someone or something when it comes to a new diagnosis," Dr. Hennis says. "But remember our current state is the result of our past actions whether self-inflicted, environmental, or genetic. The effects of some of these factors are not always reversible, but if you don't change your habits today you create more problems. Medications help some but cannot stop you from having the highs and lows of blood sugar if you continue to eat high glycemic index foods. Exercise helps the cells of your body become more efficient with managing insulin. So, walk past the donut in the lunchroom; opt to go for a walk instead. Sugar is addictive and requires a lot of support, so get the help you need from your doctor."

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Poor Nutritional and Lack of Physical Activity

woman is chewing pizza, while laying on the white sofa. She is watching TV shows, being on blurred background.

Dr. Hennis states, "It is important to incorporate a healthy lifestyle with both the right foods and right activity to help you. You might have heard your doctor say, "eat better, move more." But how do you do this, each new habit feels like it needs some drastic changes in your lifestyle. You make a goal and stop after a week because it becomes unsustainable. I can start by sharing some important tips to get you started. Let's talk about specifics:

  • When purchasing foods, review the glycemic index of foods. Glycemic index is the load of sugar each food delivers when it enters your body. There are foods that deliver high, medium, and low glycemic index. The goal for diabetes and pre-diabetics is to eat more of the low glycemic index and over time cut out the high glycemic index. The habit is starting to understand what those low glycemic index foods are and switching them slowly. For example, if you eat a cookie (high glycemic index) after lunch every day, you might want to switch to eating a melon (medium glycemic index) for a few weeks instead, and then switch to berries (low glycemic index). The more you learn about this, the easier decisions will be when you shop. By eliminating the high glycemic index foods from your vicinity such as lunchrooms, fridges, pantries, you are making a big shift in your mind and your gut to help with healthier habits.
  • When incorporating exercise, start with committing to 15 minutes of something doable for 1 week. We call these SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based). You don't need to start doing 1 hour of a workout if you have never done one before, start with something small, commit to it for one week or two. For the following week, you can choose to increase the time by 5 minutes or switch up the activity, pick one for a few days in a row. The point is, you want the habit to stick and become a part of your life."

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woman doing ab exercises at home

Dr. Rostomyan explains, "There is a great body of evidence showing that by the time people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, 50% of beta cell function is already impaired so reversal oftentimes refers to managing Diabetes to a degree where major micro and macro vascular complications are prevented, we cannot fully reverse diabetes or cure it, since it's a metabolic disease and prevention here is the key. Although in some instances it is possible to partially regain insulin sensitivity through weight loss, exercise, healthy Mediterranean Diet, and certain Diabetes medications as well."

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Ways to Put Diabetes in Remission

mediterranean diet

"Prevention and diabetes awareness is the only proven way to avoid type 2 diabetes complications and living and breathing a healthy lifestyle and making core life changing habits is the way to go," says Dr. Rostomyan. "I suggest the Mediterranean Diet. Adopting diets that exclude refined carbs, sugars, a variety of added sugars and adding foods that don't increase insulin levels, such as healthy fats and lean protein is the key to keeping the insulin levels low and preventing carbohydrate overload . High insulin levels promote weight gain and more insulin resistance, which is the mechanism of progressing type 2 diabetes to a higher degree."

Dr. Hennis recommends other methods of prevention. "One habit is drinking one 8 ounce cup of water before putting any food in your mouth. This helps you stay fuller, so you don't overeat. Another habit is not shopping for processed or complex sugars which include: white flour, candy or juice. If you don't keep it in your home, you are less likely to consume it. You can buy almond or coconut flour, sugar free gum or real fruit to replace those foods. Another habit is setting aside 15-mins at least three times a week to do some sort of moderate physical activity. This can include doing jumping jacks when your kids are playing, or using a skipping rope. Remember, you don't have to complicate how to exercise, the important thing is getting it done. Your doctor is always a good support system, and can refer you to a dietician if you need more direction!"


The Difference Between Prediabetes and Diabetes

Healthcare worker at home visit

"If your body is starting to become insulin resistant, your blood sugar after an 8 hour fast will show numbers between 100mg/dl – 125mg/dl. If you are diabetic these numbers will be greater than 126mg/dl. For a non-diabetic numbers are below 100mg/dL upon fasting," Dr. Hennis explains. "You have three options when you are diagnosed with prediabetes: lifestyle change, medication + lifestyle, or medication only. Your doctor can talk to you about what medication options you might be eligible for; however I cannot stress the importance of incorporating lifestyle changes. As humans we don't like change, but choosing one item you could incorporate in your daily habits can make a big impact. If you change one habit per week, that's at least 52 habits you can change in one year!" And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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