What are some of the lifestyle, genetics and other not-so-obvious factors that can trigger diabetes? What can you do to prevent this condition?

Diabetes is a chronic condition associated with abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. It affects over 29.1 million people in the U.S. – 9.3 percent of the population in the U.S.

Another 86 million Americans have prediabetes and aren’t even aware of it. The cause of diabetes is the absence or insufficient production of the hormone insulin, which lowers blood sugar in the body.

Two types of diabetes

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2, which are also known as insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is less common: it affects only 1 in 250 Americans and only occurs in individuals younger than age 20. It has no known cure. A majority of type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented or cured.

Signs and symptoms

Among the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are:

  • Increased urine
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Skin problems
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Yeast infections
  • Tingling or numbness in feet or toes

Various factors

Research has proven that there are certain lifestyle and genetic factors that lead to diabetes. Among them are:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Leading a non-active lifestyle
  • A family history of diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Elevated levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood
  • Increasing age
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Gestational diabetes during a pregnancy
  • Some ethnic backgrounds (African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Alaska natives) are at greater risk of diabetes.

Get the glucose blood test

If you are concerned about having some of the symptoms, you can ask your doctor for a fasting blood glucose (sugar) test, which is the preferred way to diagnose diabetes. You need to fast for at least eight hours before the test. Fasting blood samples that contain more than 126 mg/dl on two or more tests on different days indicate diabetes. A random blood glucose test of 200 mg/dl or higher also indicates diabetes.

Long-term damage

Diabetes can cause major damage to the body over time. It can hurt the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Adults with diabetes also have a 2 to 3 times increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to the World Health Organization. Reduced blood flow also cause nerve damage in the feet, which can lead to ulcers, infection and eventually, limb amputation. Diabetic retinopathy can also lead to blindness. That’s why it is important to get diagnosed and begin taking control of this condition as soon as possible.

Lifestyle cures

Here are five lifestyle changes you can use to treat or prevent diabetes:

1. Losing 10 pounds, even over several years, can reduce the risk of diabetes by 50 percent.

2. Reducing intake of high-sugar foods

3. Consuming the right dietary fats. Always go for olive oil, which has anti-inflammatory benefits instead of saturated fats, which build up insulin resistance.

4. Regularly exercising (150 minutes a week) is one of the best weapons against diabetes. By keeping muscles active, you can improve sensitivity to insulin. Regular aerobic exercises such as running, swimming and biking also improve blood pressure.

5. Flavor your food with spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, thyme and turmeric, all of which improve glucose tolerance.

By Ramin Zahed

If you think you may be at risk for diabetes, talk to your primary care physician.

If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.