The vast majority of American diabetics -- according to some figures, as many as 95 percent -- have type 2 diabetes. However, a combination of medical misinformation and dietary trends makes it difficult for most people to truly understand their risks, let alone reduce them.
What is type 2 diabetes, and what causes it?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's metabolism, causing it to produce more blood sugar than necessary. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body can't produce enough insulin to stabilize these levels, and patients with this condition must administer their own daily insulin as a result. However, type 2 diabetes is different because the body does produce insulin, but it doesn't respond to it properly.
This insulin-resistant condition starves your blood cells and spikes your blood glucose levels, and eventually, this can cause long-term damage to your nervous system, heart, kidneys, and vision. The most common cause is obesity, as well as the inactivity and unhealthy diet that usually go hand-in-hand with excess weight. Other risk factors include specific ethnicities and the female gender; women and people with Hispanic, African, Asian, or Native American ancestry are particularly prone to developing it.
How do you reduce your risks?
According to the American Diabetes Association, the single most effective way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to eat a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains. High-fiber varieties are especially helpful; raspberries, artichokes, peas, pears, broccoli, whole wheat pasta, bran flakes, and oatmeal all contain more than five grams of fiber per serving. The recommended fiber intake is between 25 grams (for women) and 30 grams (for men).
It's also important to avoid processed foods and beverages, especially those that are loaded with complex carbohydrates and refined sugars. Soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and candy are particularly harmful. They condition your body to respond in unhealthy ways to the presence of glucose in your bloodstream, and if you also have other risk factors, this can quickly lead not just to obesity, but also to type 2 diabetes.
Of course, a healthy diet is the most beneficial when you combine it with an active lifestyle. The only way to truly ward off extra weight is to burn calories throughout the day, so if you have a sedentary office job or spend your weekends in front of the TV, it's important to remind yourself to get up and take a walk every hour or two. At least 30 minutes of daily exercise can whip your blood sugar levels back into shape and seriously lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is more common among those with a family history, but if you have a genetic predisposition, that doesn't mean this diagnosis is inevitable. Some prescription medications have been proven to lower pre-existing risk factors, even among those who are already borderline diabetic. Metformin is the most popular diabetes drug, and according to the National Institutes of Health, it can lower your risk by as much as 31%.
Type 2 diabetes is actually the most preventable form of diabetes, so it's especially tragic that so many children and adults suffer poor living conditions because of it. Luckily, you can take action to lower your risk and make sure this disease doesn't take over your life too. Just watch what you eat, get plenty of exercise, and talk to your doctor if you're concerned about your weight or family history. You're the only one who can stop type 2 diabetes in its tracks.