What You Don’t Know about Diabetes


You may have heard that obesity raises your risk for developing diabetes, but did you know that stress and lack of sleep can do so as well?  We reveal links to the disease that aren’t all related to weight.


You exercise, eat sensibly and have always been slim.  Yet you suddenly get the diagnosis of pre-diabetes from your physician.  How could that be?  Isn’t diabetes an illness associated with the overweight and obese?


That’s not a poor assumption.  Type 2 diabetes occurs when insulin, a hormone that controls the glucose levels in the blood, fails to deliver the glucose (which you get from food) to your organs.  As a result, blood levels of glucose rise to toxic levels and remain there unless the condition is treated with a special diet, exercise, and in some cases medication.  (Type 1 diabetes is, in contrast, an autoimmune disease that occurs because the body makes too little or no insulin.)  Scientists have thought that the excess pounds alone somehow directly cause insulin resistance.  After all, 85% of those who suffer from type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.


But that still leaves 15%, about 3 million Americans, with the disease despite having a healthy weight.  It turns out that what’s on the scale alone doesn’t determine who gets type 2.   There are a range of health issues that may be throwing the body’s glucose levels off-balance.  But by simply improving the following conditions, you can stave off the disease, and feel a whole lot better, too.


Lack of sleep:  Mounting evidence suggests that insufficient sleep disrupts our ability to regulate blood sugar.  A sleep deficit of merely 30 minutes on weeknights can lead to insulin resistance in as little as 6 months.  Sleep is a big deal!  To shift your body back to balance, aim for at least 6 and a half to 7 hours of sleep per night.


Chronic stress: Whether mental or physical, stress can cause blood-sugar levels to rise.  Some studies place the risk as high as 45% greater.  If work or your personal life makes you feel anxious, zero in on the source and try to change it, or find other ways to counterbalance it, whether by exercising, meditating or engaging in a hobby.


Too many highly processed carbohydrates: Years of a poor quality diet, in addition to genetic factors, can place a person at a higher risk of diabetes even if he or she is not obese.  Overindulging in highly processed, high-glycemic carbohydrates, such as soda and white bread, can cause marked upticks in blood sugar levels.  Habitually drinking just one 12-ounce regular soda per day can increase the risk of diabetes by 22%.  And that’s not just because of the subjects’ weight; the correlation even held true even after accounting for body-weight status, suggesting other factors, like the spike in blood glucose, may be in play.  Replace soda with water and unsweetened tea or coffee, and you may see blood glucose levels go down.  In addition, swapping out refined carbohydrates for unprocessed foods can lower diabetes risk by 36%.


Missing probiotics: The gut’s microbiota (the bacterial flora in the digestive tract) may hold clues as to why some people develop diabetes.  You can enhance your microbiota and decrease your diabetes risk by eating the right foods.  Raw vegetables, onions, beans, and berries promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria; the kinds that help slow glucose absorption.  You may be able to improve blood-glucose levels by limiting artificial sweeteners.  Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) may alter gut microbiota, which in turn has an effect on your ability to process glucose.


Too little muscle: Some slim people have more body fat than they do muscle.  As a result, they suffer from metabolic issues similar to those found in much heavier people.  The latest research corroborates that fat (not just weight) needs to be taken into account when considering a patient’s risk for diabetes.  Thirty minutes of weight training five days a week can cut diabetes risk by 34%.  And other research has shown that strength training helps to improve insulin function.


In conclusion, all of this convincing evidence should encourage you to change your ways.  Tweak your diet and exercise routine, and increase your sound, restful sleep.  You’re feeling healthier already!


Fan Winston