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The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Physicians

Here’s how to avoid insulin resistance and diabetes.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the CDC, 37.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes (11.3% of the population) and 96 million have prediabetes (38.0% of the adult population). "Diabetes happens when you have too much sugar, also called glucose, in your blood," says Adrian Vella, MD. "Normally, when your body digests food, sugar goes into your bloodstream then into your cells, where it serves as fuel for those cells. Sugar gets into the cells with the help of the hormone insulin. When you eat, your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream. As insulin circulates, it acts like a key that allows sugar to enter your cells and lowers the amount of sugar in your blood. In people with diabetes and prediabetes, this process doesn't work the way it should. Instead of fueling your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream." Here are the main causes of diabetes, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

COVID-19 and Diabetes

People infected with COVID-19 are 40% more likely to develop diabetes up to a year later, according to recent studies. "The real question is whether there's an association to the viral infection, or if the coronavirus illness simply brought out the diabetes sooner than it would have otherwise been identified," says Kathleen Wyne, MD, PhD.

2

Poor Diet

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One study of over 200,000 people published in PLoS Medicine showed that a diet consisting of foods such as fruits, beans, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains helped prevent diabetes, whereas people who consumed refined grains and excessive amounts of sugar were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. "Given the dramatic increase in the incidence of diabetes in this country, studies that identify preventive approaches are worthy of attention," says Robert H. Shmerling, MD. "Besides providing some of the strongest support to date for recommendations for healthier diets, perhaps the biggest impact of a study like this should be for people at increased risk of disease."

3

No Exercise

Lazy man watching television at night alone

Exercise is important in helping prevent diabetes, experts say. "People with diabetes who walked at least two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease than their sedentary counterparts, and those who exercised three to four hours a week cut their risk even more," says Harvard Health. "Women with diabetes who spent at least four hours a week doing moderate exercise (including walking) or vigorous exercise had a 40% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who didn't exercise. These benefits persisted even after researchers adjusted for confounding factors, including BMI, smoking, and other heart disease risk factors."

4

Sitting All Day Long (Especially For Women)

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One study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who spent prolonged periods of time sitting throughout the day were at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. "This study provides important new evidence that higher levels of sitting time have a deleterious impact on insulin resistance and chronic low-grade inflammation in women but not men and that this effect is seen regardless of how much exercise is undertaken," says Dr. Thomas Yates, senior lecturer in physical activity, sedentary behavior and health at the University of Leicester. "This suggests that women who meet the national recommendations of 30 minutes of exercise a day may still be compromising their health if they are seated for the rest of the day. It therefore suggests that enabling women to spend less time sitting may be an important factor in preventing chronic disease."

5

Being Overweight

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video
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Being overweight or obese is one of the main drivers of insulin resistance and diabetes. The link between excessive fat and diabetes is so strong it's resulted in a new term: "diabesity." "Diabesity is a disease with enormous potential to cause ill effects on the body in the long run," says endocrinologist Jay Waddadar, MD. "Some people don't understand the importance of taking the steps to manage it because they're feeling well at the time of diagnosis. But that's a big mistake. Diabesity is a silent disease that damages your body if it's not controlled, even while you feel fine."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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