90% of all diabetes cases are due to type 2 diabetes, which is associated with being overweight or obese. The other 10% are due to type 1 diabetes, which is caused by an autoimmune disease within the pancreas destroying the insulin producing beta cells. Diabetes, type 1 often occurs in childhood (hence the name “juvenile diabetes”), while type 2 diabetes is a condition of the middle aged and older population. There is however an alarming trend: overweight or obese youngsters are also being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Here I am discussing type 2 diabetes.
There is not just one way to get diabetes; it usually is a multifactorial disease. Sure, genetics play a minor role. But you need to have epigenetic factors to trigger the genes to develop diabetes: eating too much sugar, eating wheat and wheat products, drinking soda drinks that contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Alcohol binges can also cause diabetes as can accumulation of excessive weight (a body mass index above 25.0). Even when there is no genetic risk in your family (your family tree has nobody that came down with diabetes and all your ancestors lived into their 90’s), you can still develop diabetes, if you are exposed to one or more of the risk factors mentioned.
There are at least 5 mechanisms that are presently known that can cause insulin resistance (and thus diabetes) by itself or in combination. For a deeper understanding of diabetes it is crucial to be aware of these. Without knowing the enemy, you cannot fight it.
1. When a person eats too much sugar or fructose the liver converts this into excessive fat that is accumulated in the body’s cells. As a result insulin receptors are becoming inefficient in absorbing sugar from the blood, and blood sugar levels stay high. The pancreas reacts to this by making even more insulin, which after a few years will cause the pancreas to fail in producing insulin. At this point the patient requires insulin or else gets into a diabetic coma.
2. Chronic inflammation is another mechanism that has been shown to cause insulin resistance. Obesity, the metabolic syndrome and diabetes have a common inflammatory denominator that results in insulin resistance. With the aging process there is also deterioration of mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the mini batteries inside of every cell that are responsible for you having energy). This causes fat accumulation and also insulin resistance. Exercise and weight loss are effective in combatting insulin resistance. Fasting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
3. The metabolism of visceral fat (the type of fat causing the apple appearance in obesity) is highly active and is associated with an increased risk for heart attacks and developing diabetes. The pear shaped woman runs less of a risk, as the fat around the hips is not metabolically active. On the other hand when these women enter into menopause, they also develop abdominal fat (apple-like fat distribution) with a high secretion of inflammatory substances causing insulin resistance, heart attacks and strokes.
4. Another mechanism of causing inflammation comes from invasion of organs with fat cells. The development of fat toxicity from these displaced fat cells can also cause insulin resistance. Heart cells have been shown to die from fat toxicity and in the pancreas the insulin-producing cells can be killed by fat toxicity as well causing diabetes or making existing diabetes worse.
5. Interestingly another line of research, namely researching binge drinking, has revealed that there is a short-term insulin resistance that lasts for several days until the alcohol has been properly metabolized. It is of concern that adolescents who are experimenting with binge drinking are very vulnerable to develop brain damage from this habit.