A healthy body is like a well-maintained car: It operates at peak performance as long as it’s fueled.
A diabetic body, on the other hand, is like a car with a broken fuel injector: The gas might be in the tank, but it’s not reaching the engine.
When you eat, food is broken down into a simple sugar called glucose, which quickly enters your bloodstream. Then insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, delivers the blood glucose to individual cells, where it’s used to power the entire body. The amount of insulin produced is directly proportionate to the amount of glucose in the blood. This allows the body to utilize most of the energy supplied by food.
But blood glucose can’t power a body unless insulin delivers it to the cells. Since people with diabetes either don’t produce insulin (called Type 1 diabetes) or have cells that develop resistance to the hormone (known as Type 2), the fuel that enters the body isn’t used.
Instead the cells are left hungry, causing fatigue, dizziness, confusion, or fainting spells. Sugar builds up in the bloodstream and becomes toxic over time, eventually damaging the eyes, kidneys, nervous system, immune system, blood vessels, and heart. The disease shaves 8 years off of the average man’s life.
The American Diabetes Association recognizes two types of diabetes that affect 12 million American men—that’s more than 11 percent of all men aged 20 and older
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 is an inherited disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells. It usually strikes suddenly during childhood and persists into adulthood, but sometimes can occur in otherwise healthy adults. That’s why it used to be better known as juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation estimates that 3 million of the 24 million Americans with diabetes have type 1. The American Diabetes Association is more conservative: They say that between 5 to 10 percent of the total diabetic population has type 1.
People with type 1 diabetes will never produce insulin, and therefore must regulate their blood sugar by closely monitoring it and adhering to a strict insulin therapy schedule.
Type 2 Diabetes
Previously referred to as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 is the most common of the two diabetes types. The National Diabetes Education Program estimates that more than 90 percent of people with diabetes are diagnosed with type 2.
People with type 2 diabetes are genetically predisposed to the disease, and usually develop the condition during middle age as a result of not working out, eating an unhealthy diet, and packing on the pounds. If you’re African American, Latino, or Asian American, you have an even higher risk for developing the disease. The risk for type 2 also increases with age, although more and more young people are being diagnosed as our collective body weight skyrockets.
When you have type 2 diabetes, you do produce insulin, but the pancreas either produces too little or your cells don’t respond to the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with diet and exercise, but can sometimes require oral medication or insulin therapy.
Before developing type 2 diabetes, most people experience blood sugar levels that are higher than the average non-diabetic population, but not as high as individuals with type 2. Usually that means their blood glucose is between 140 and 200 micrograms per deciliter. This condition is known as pre-diabetes, and it affects roughly 57 million Americans.
People with pre-diabetes will almost inevitably develop type 2 if they don’t change their lifestyle. Luckily, diet and exercise have been shown to delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
ype 1 Diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes, blame Mom and Dad—genetic factors are the primary reason why people develop the disease. 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.
Big babies are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that every two-pound increase in birth weight over 5.5 pounds increases a child”s risk of developing the disease by 7 percent.
Recent studies have suggested that enteroviruses—the most common cause of viral infections in humans—can be linked to the development of type 1 diabetes. When scientists autopsied the pancreases of 72 type 1 diabetics, 61 percent tested positive for antigens produced by the viruses, which cause respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal diseases, and meningitis.
Babies delivered by Caesarean section develop diabetes more often than babies delivered vaginally. In 2008, researchers at Queens University in Belfast, Ireland analyzed 20 studies from 16 countries and found that C-section babies are 20 percent more likely to develop type 1. The researchers think that C-sections may alter the newborns’ immune system development. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells.
A damaged pancreas can inhibit insulin production, eventually causing type 1 diabetes. Here are four ways the pancreas can be damaged.
Pancreatitis: Widespread injury and dysfunction of the pancreas normally caused by excessive alcohol or cigarette use. Diabetes results because pancreatitis kills the insulin-producing cells.
Cystic Fibrosis: A genetic condition that causes the body to produce excessive, thick, sticky mucus. The mucus scars the pancreas and prevents it from making enough insulin.
Hemochromatosis: A disease that causes excess iron to build up in the pancreas, eventually damaging the organ’s insulin-producing cells. Primary hemochromatosis is a genetic disease that rarely shows symptoms until middle age. Secondary, or non-genetic, hemochromatosis develops in adulthood and is most often caused by alcoholism or anemia. Men are more likely to have hemochromatosis than women, as menstruation rids the female body of excess iron.
Removal of the Pancreas: If the pancreas is removed due to an accident, such as a car crash, or a disease, such as pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis, the body will no longer create insulin. Type 1 diabetes will then develop.
Type 2 Diabetes
Most of us associate preventable lifestyle factors with causing type 2 diabetes. But new research shows that the variants on the TCF7L2 gene are more five times more common in people with type 2 diabetes than in the nondiabetic population. The verdict’s still out on exactly how this gene affects diabetes susceptibility, but studies suggest it may somehow inhibit insulin production.
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.
It’s no secret that heavier people are more likely to develop type 2; more than 85 percent of type 2 diabetics are overweight. 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.
Hidden Belly Fat
Visceral belly fat—the kind that pads your organs—can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine found that this internal flab contains high levels of C-reactive protein, a protein that causes inflammation and insulin resistance.
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.
Some medications can inhibit insulin production or damage the pancreas, eventually leading to diabetes.
Steroids, such as prednisolone and dexamethasone, which are used to treat inflammatory conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and lupus. In a March 2009 study, researchers found that patients who took high daily doses of steroids for over a year were about 3.5 times more likely to develop diabetes than those who not taking the meds.
Thiazide diuretics, such as bendroflumethiazide, which are used to remove excess fluid from the body in patients with hypertension. Research has shown that thiazide diuretic use increases the incidence of diabetes in men by 36 percent.
Beta-blockers, such as propranalol, or vasodilators, such as diazoxide, which are used to treat high blood pressure. Men taking beta-blockers are 20 more likely to develop diabetes than those who are not.
Immunosuppressants, such as ciclosporin and tacrolimus, which are used to prevent rejection of organs following a transplant. A recent study found that about 30 percent of previously non-diabetic patients given immunosuppressant therapy developed diabetes.
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 in Occupational 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.
Even if you have several risk factors, you can minimize your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by making some simple changes
Have a Beer
We’re not suggesting you host a “Get Drunk for Diabetes” party, but knocking back a couple every now and then might lower your risk for type 2. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed a link between moderate alcohol consumption and lower diabetes risk. Cheers to that!
Host a Tea Party
Drinking tea may help fight diabetes. Chinese researchers found that polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate found in tea, helps control blood glucose levels. Added bonus: The study also showed that polysaccharides help wrangle free radicals that contribute to cancer and arthritis. Opt for black tea; it’s best at glucose management.
Keep Things Short
Short bursts of exercise can reduce your risk of diabetes, say Scottish researchers. In their study, men sprinted on a stationary bike for 30 seconds, rested for 4 minutes, and then repeated the routine three to five more times. After six workouts, the men’s insulin sensitivity improved by 23 percent. “High-intensity sprints prime your muscle fibers to respond better to insulin,” says study author James Timmons, Ph.D. If you’re not tiring toward the end of each sprint, you’re bicycling with too little resistance.
Eat Your Broccoli
Mom made you finish it for a reason, though she may not have realized it at the time: The mineral chromium, found in broccoli and grapefruit, helps regulate blood glucose levels. One study found that insulin sensitivity was twice as good in people consuming the most chromium than in those who ate less.
Milk the Benefits
In a 12-year study of more than 41,000 men, Harvard scientists found that eating one serving of dairy each day decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 9 percent. The researchers think that the calcium found in dairy may be involved.
Hit the Office Coffeepot
Coffee can clear the cobwebs from your head and, apparently, your insulin receptors. In a recent Swedish study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers determined that insulin sensitivity improves in direct correlation with coffee consumption. For each cup you drink daily, you decrease your risk of insulin resistance 16 percent. A separate study found that men who drank regular coffee daily significantly reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes.
Order a Wine Chaser
Next time you wine and dine, have your last glass as dessert. Australian researchers found that one and a half glasses of wine downed shortly after a meal plunges insulin back to pre-meal levels. Avoid syrupy-sweet dessert wines, such as port or sherry, and ask for a Riesling instead; it’s sweet but won’t boost blood sugar.
Walk It Off
Researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia have found that your muscles’ insulin efficiency decreases after just 2 days of inactivity. A drop in insulin efficiency can increase your chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. After rest, receptors on muscle cells become less efficient at signaling the amount of insulin bound to them, and as a result, less glucose is taken into your muscles for energy. That leaves more glucose to wreak havoc in the rest of your body. So aim for physical activity most days of the week (walking is good), especially if type 2 diabetes runs in your family.