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Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
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Lesson 5 - Type 2 Diabetes Explained

Is there a genetic component to type 2 diabetes?

Doctors know more about the causes of type 2 diabetes than type 1. First of all, type 2 diabetes runs in families, which leads researchers to believe strongly that it is a genetic disease. Studies have shown the genetic component to be significantly greater for type 2 diabetes than type 1. Although genes do play an important role, environmental factors like obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can trigger the disease.

What are the environmental factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes?

Age: Half of all new type 2 diabetes cases are people over 55.

Obesity (20 percent over ideal body weight): Although not all obese people develop diabetes, the risk increases dramatically with obesity. This is the most important environmental factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. The risk is considerable greater than for those who maintain a normal weight.

Sedentary lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle and a high-calorie diet contribute to obesity and greatly increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Fat in the central body area: In other words — your waistline. This is also called visceral fat and is associated with more insulin resistance than fat that collects in other areas (like the hips and thighs). Visceral fat is also associated with coronary artery disease.

Low fiber diet: Dietary fiber decreases the rate at which glucose enters your bloodstream, and is believed to provide some protection against diabetes.

Insulin resistance syndrome and type 2 diabetes

A strong component of type 2 diabetes that can be influenced by the genetic factor is insulin resistance. This problem occurs when your body doesn't respond to the insulin your produce in a healthy and normal way. Thus, your cells can't obtain the glucose they need for energy. If you are insulin-resistant and do not produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance and get the glucose into your cells, you will likely develop type 2 diabetes.

Even before onset of diabetes symptoms, obesity or inactivity, people prone to type 2 diabetes will usually show signs of insulin resistance. Blood tests will show that insulin levels in the body will be elevated in comparison with people not at risk for developing the disease. As additional evidence, a shot of insulin won't reduce the blood glucose level in the insulin-resistant person nearly as much as it will in a person who's body uses insulin in a normal and healthy way.

In the insulin-resistant state, your body will try to make more insulin just to try to keep your blood glucose level within a normal range. This means that the insulin you are making isn't nearly as effective as it needs to be. This leads you to a state where you have impaired glucose tolerance because your insulin cannot properly process glucose. This impaired glucose tolerance combined with other common predisposing factors like weight gain, inactivity, again and overworked pancreas can lead to active type 2 diabetes.

Your liver can contribute to type 2 diabetes. Your liver stores lots of glucose and can make glucose from other bodily substances. As you become more and more insulin resistant, and less and less glucose is getting into your cells, your liver can begin to inappropriately release glucose, even as you are fasting (like during sleep) and cause your blood glucose level to rise. The glucose release from your liver is called your hepatic glucose output.

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