11 June 2013 Thanks Dad! The Game of Diabetes Risk

My father passed on to me many wonderful things: a strong work ethic, a sense of humor, dimples, to name a few. He also passed on to me the genetics for type 2 diabetes. Thanks Dad. A shrewd card player, my dad would say, “A card laid is a card played.” But is that the case in life's game of type 2 diabetes risk? You may get dealt the hand that includes the type 2 diabetes gene. How you play that hand with lifestyle choices can determine whether or not, and how soon in life, it plays itself out.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes that impacts millions of people worldwide. It is a disease that can affect a person's quality of life. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin from the pancreas and/or there is insulin resistance. This resistance occurs because the mechanism that allows insulin into the body's cells is broken.

Insulin is vital to our body. Without it, we cannot live because it is the carrier that transports the sugar and starch from food into the body cells for fuel. When diabetes is uncontrolled, the glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood. The body does not like high blood glucose, and a cascade of reactions occur when the body tries to compensate. This can lead to health complications, including poor blood circulation, vision impairment and fatigue.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has many risk factors, some we can change, some we cannot (1). The major risk factors we cannot change are:

  • Age > 45 years
  • First degree relative (parent or sibling) with type 2 diabetes
  • African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander family background
  • History of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • History of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a female reproductive condition

Major risk factors that we can do something about are:

  • Sedentary lifestyle (also known as being a couch potato)
  • Being overweight with a body mass index >= 25

It is also important to know that high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (the good type of cholesterol) and high triglycerides (blood fats) are also factors associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The Good News

Strong evidence exists to support the positive impact of healthy lifestyle to prevent or delay the progression of type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program was a large study that included overweight people who were at risk for developing type 2 diabetes (2). The study showed that losing weight and becoming more physically active decreased the risk of getting diabetes by 58%. Most people in the study chose to walk 30 minutes a day, five days per week. So, a card laid may not be a card played if you are dealt the type 2 diabetes gene. To a large extent, you can determine how you play your hand. The trick to winning the game is being physically active and achieving a healthy body weight.

  1. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/risk-factors/
  2. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/preventionprogram/

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Diabetes/Preventing Diabetes

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