Beyond High Sugar Intake: Why Do People Get Diabetes? Factors Explained.

Diabetes is a prevalent chronic condition affecting millions of individuals worldwide. While excessive sugar consumption is often highlighted as a primary cause, it is crucial to understand that diabetes is a multifaceted disease influenced by various factors.

Exploring the lesser-known causes of diabetes, beyond sugar, can provide valuable insights into the complexity of this condition and empower individuals to make informed choices about their health.  

While the link between excessive sugar consumption and diabetes is well known, there is more to this complex condition than meets the eye. Understanding the other causes and risk factors for diabetes is critical for managing and preventing the condition.

This article will discuss factors other than sugar that contribute to the growing health crisis of diabetes.

Diabetes as A Growing Global Health Challenge

The number of diabetes cases has reached over five million for the first time amid rising levels of obesity. According to Diabetes UK, the nation is facing a rapidly escalating diabetes crisis. Approximately 4.3 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, while an estimated 850,000 are living with the condition but have not yet been formally diagnosed. 

Additionally, over 2.4 million people in the UK are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The charity is particularly concerned that the high percentage of adults in England who are overweight or obese, around 64%, is leading to an increase in type 2 diabetes cases. This condition is becoming increasingly common among those under 40 and in areas with higher levels of deprivation.

Diabetes and Its Types

Diabetes, a chronic metabolic disorder caused by the body’s inefficient use or production of insulin, is characterised by high blood sugar levels. A pancreatic hormone called insulin controls blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to enter and be utilised by cells as energy. When this process is disrupted, it can result in a variety of health problems. To better understand diabetes, exploring its types, signs, and symptoms is essential.

1. Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, also defined as insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the pancreatic insulin-producing cells. It causes the body to produce no insulin, requiring people with type 1 diabetes to use insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels. 

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Frequent Urination

The body attempts to remove excess glucose through increased urination.

  • Increased Thirst

Dehydration due to frequent urination leads to increased thirst.

  • Sudden Weight Loss

Without sufficient insulin, the body starts breaking down fat and muscle for energy.

  • Fatigue

Lack of energy due to insufficient glucose in the body’s cells.

  • Blurred Vision

Elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream can cause inflammation in the eye’s lens, causing vision to blur.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

The most common type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes. It is caused by insulin   resistance or insufficient insulin production, which results in abnormal blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is frequently manageable through lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, or oral medications, as opposed to type 1 diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Increased Hunger

Insulin resistance causes the body to struggle to access glucose, increasing hunger.

  • Slow Healing

High blood sugar levels can impair blood flow and wound healing.

  • Hand and Foot Tingling or Numbness

Increased sugar levels in the blood can damage nerves and cause these symptoms.

  • Dark Skin Patches

Insulin resistance can cause dark, velvety patches on the skin, usually in the neck or armpit area.

3. Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is also a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, affecting 2% to 10% of all pregnancies. It usually appears during the second or third trimester and disappears after the baby is born. Women who have gestational diabetes, on the other hand, are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Often Asymptomatic

Many women may not experience noticeable symptoms.

  • Excessive Thirst and Urination

Like other types of diabetes, the body tries to remove excess glucose through increased urination, leading to dehydration and increased thirst.

  • Fatigue

Fatigue results from the body’s inability to convert glucose into energy.

4. Prediabetes

Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are elevated but do not meet the criteria for type 2 diabetes. If left untreated, prediabetes can advance to type 2 diabetes. However, lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthier diet and increasing physical activity can often prevent or reverse prediabetes.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Often Asymptomatic

Many people with prediabetes do not experience any symptoms.

  • Slightly Increased Thirst or Urination

Some individuals may notice a mild increase in thirst or urination frequency.

  • Mild Fatigue

The body may struggle to access glucose, causing mild fatigue.

Diagnosis of Diabetes

Diabetes Mellitus Diagnostic Tests

Diagnosis of Diabetes involves several tests that measure blood sugar levels to determine if an individual has diabetes. The primary tests used for diagnosing diabetes include:

  1. Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG)

This test measures blood sugar levels after an overnight fast. A diagnosis of diabetes is made if two separate tests show a result of 126 mg/dL or higher.

  1. Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

This test compares blood sugar levels before and after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. Two hours after the drink, a 200 mg/dL or higher blood sugar level indicates diabetes.

  1. Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) Test

This test gives you an average of your blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months. An HbA1c level of 6.5% or higher on two tests indicates diabetes.

To help diagnose diabetes, doctors may also consider the patient’s medical history, symptoms, and risk factors in addition to these tests.

Causes of Diabetes Beyond Sugar

While sugar consumption is often implicated as a primary cause of diabetes, it is essential to recognise that multiple factors can contribute to developing this chronic condition. Understanding these factors can help individuals make informed choices about their lifestyle and health, ultimately reducing their risk of diabetes. 

Here are some lesser-known factors that can contribute to the development of diabetes, extending beyond sugar intake.

1. Genetics and Family History

Genetics, according to research, can play a role in developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes runs in families, which increases the likelihood of developing the disease.

2. Obesity and Physical Inactivity

Obesity or being overweight is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Being inactive can also elevate the risk of developing the condition.

3. Ethnicity and Age

Compared to other ethnic groups, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the risk of developing diabetes rises with age.

4. Diet and Lifestyle Factors

A high-sugar diet, saturated and trans fats, and processed foods can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a diet high in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, on the other hand, can help lower the risk of developing the condition. Diabetes can also be exacerbated by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor sleep habits.

5. Stress and Other Health Conditions

Stress can raise cortisol levels and impair insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can be exacerbated by other medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea. Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and statins, can also increase the risk of developing diabetes as a side effect.

Tips for Preventing Diabetes

While some risk factors for diabetes, such as genetics and age, cannot be changed, many lifestyle factors can be modified to help prevent the condition’s onset. Implementing healthy habits in your daily life can significantly reduce your chances of developing diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes. Here are some essential tips for preventing diabetes:

1. Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can help improve insulin sensitivity and decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Shedding just a small amount of weight can significantly impact you if you are overweight.

2. Regular Physical Activity

Incorporating regular exercise, such as cycling, swimming, or walking, into your routine can enhance insulin sensitivity and decrease the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. Aim for 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

3. Balanced and Nutritious Diet

A balanced and nutritious diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help prevent diabetes.

Reduce the consumption of processed foods, added sugars, and bad fats.

4. Regular Health Check-ups

Regularly visiting your doctor for check-ups can help detect possible risk factors or early indications of diabetes. Diabetes can be avoided if risk factors are identified early and managed effectively.

5. Stress management

Meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques exercises can help balance blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes. Incorporate stress management practises into your daily routine to promote overall health and well-being.

Embracing a Proactive Approach to Diabetes Prevention

Taking control of your health is crucial in the fight against diabetes. With millions of people affected by this chronic condition, prioritising prevention and making informed choices about your lifestyle is more important than ever.

Preventing diabetes not only spares you from the challenges millions of people face worldwide but also contributes to your community’s overall health and well-being; as with any health issue, education and awareness are key. So, take the initiative to educate yourself and others about diabetes, its causes, and ways to prevent it. Together, we can contribute to improvements in the lives of millions of people and create a healthier future for all!