Lillian Wilson

Diabetes: How to Minimise the Risk of the Most Common Modern Disease

Diabetes – a top killer of humanity caused by unhealthy lifestyles. The treatment and prevention key lies in a balanced diet and healthy living.


It seems like at least once in our lives we have met a person who carries an insulin kit with them everywhere. Even in our developed world, people suffering from diabetes have a difficult time measuring and controlling their blood glucose. But the truth is that diabetes is not only about insulin, sugar levels and needles; diabetes is a much more serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and even blindness.

The number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 463 million in 2019. In 2019, diabetes claimed the lives of 1.5 million people. The incidence of diabetes is on the rise, and the number of diabetics is expected to reach 578 million by 2030.

What is diabetes?

The main characteristic of diabetes is chronically elevated levels of sugar in your blood. There are 2 main types of diabetes called type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The first one is associated with insulin deficiency and the second one is with insulin resistance.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a result of an autoimmune reaction that stops insulin production, about 5-10% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is mostly a result of certain genetic variations that make the organism more vulnerable to succumbing to it. Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes often develop quickly. A child, teen, or young adult is usually diagnosed with this disease. There is no known way to prevent Type 1 diabetes at the present time.

Type 2 Diabetes

When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin well, so you are unable to keep your blood sugar levels at normal levels. Approximately 90-95% of people with diabetes have Type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults.

In this article, we will focus on Type 2 diabetes as it is directly linked to your lifestyle and daily habits.

Main risk factors of diabetes

Genes and lifestyle both play a role in causing Type 2 diabetes. A person’s chances of developing Type 2 diabetes increase if they are overweight, have high blood pressure and do not exercise.


Carrying excess body fat is the number-one risk factor for Type 2 diabetes; up to 90% of those who develop the disease are overweight. These two things – obesity and diabetes are intertwined extremely closely.

If you are not physically active, have obesity or are overweight you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is because the extra weight may result in insulin resistance. The difference is also created by the location of body fat, for instance, extra belly fat is associated with insulin resistance as well as type 2 diabetes. Check out your Body Mass Index to make sure you are not at risk of developing diabetes.


There is a strong link between smoking and Type 2 diabetes.

Smoking increases the diabetes risk by +75% Source: SAGE Journals

A study revealed that men who smoke more than 2 packaging of cigarettes a day have a 45% higher risk of succumbing to diabetes. The risk is to developing the very disease is 75% higher in women who smoke more than 40 cigarettes during the day compared to those who didn’t smoke at all.


Regular heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because alcohol may deteriorate glucose tolerance and and make your organs not respond well to insulin so that cells cannot take up glucose from your blood. Plus, heavy drinking increases the risks of obesity and chronic pancreatitis which are linked with higher odds of Type 2 diabetes as well.


Genetic variations

Type 1 diabetes is mostly genetic. Research suggests that people who have certain genetic variations are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes. These variations are found in the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) genes that play a role in the way the body recognizes and reacts to viruses or bacteria.

There is also a strong association between Type 1 diabetes and certain genetic variations in the genes that control the function of the pancreas. Genes that control the function of the pancreas may also influence predisposition to Type 1 diabetes as they are involved in insulin production.

Surprisingly, the race of a person influences the risk of Type 2 diabetes development. This is because some genetic mutations that increase the very risk are more common in certain populations. According to American Diabetes Association, such ethnic groups as African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. People of colour are almost twice as likely as white individuals to develop Type 2 diabetes by the time they are 45.

Family History influenced by lifestyle choices

Family history of the Type 2 diabetes can also increase likelihood of developing the condition. However it is important to understand that, a family history of Type 2 diabetes is strongly interlinked with unhealthy lifestyle choices (for example, eating a lot of fatty and salty food regularly) that are imposed by parents on children. The study shows that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 40% for those who have an affected parent (higher if the mother rather than the father) and 70% if both parents are diabetics.

Main symptoms of diabetes

Diabetes symptoms are not always obvious and may be mistaken for other illnesses. The symptoms of diabetes are often vague and hard to identify at first. If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s important to see a doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment options.

Overall symptoms of diabetes include:

  • increased hunger and thirst

  • weight loss

  • frequent urination

  • blurry vision

  • extreme fatigue

  • sores that don’t heal

  • numbness in the hands or feet

Main complications of diabetes

Diabetic complications can damage a range of organs and tissues in your body, including your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves if diabetes is not managed properly. Diabetes complications may even be life-threatening. Currently, in the United States, diabetes causes about 50,000 cases of kidney failure, 75,000 lower extremity amputations, and 650,000 cases of vision loss.

Complications include:

  • Cardiovascular issues such as chest pain, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and narrowing of the arteries

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy) – a condition characterized by numbness and tingling that begins in the toes and spreads to other parts of the body

  • Kidney damage can result in kidney failure or the need for dialysis or transplantation

  • Eye damage that can later make the ill blind

  • Poor blood flow

  • Wounds take a long time to heal

  • Depression

  • Dementia

  • Problems with teeth

  • Hearing loss

Five ways to prevent or reduce the risk of death from diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is eloquently referred to as the ‘Black Death of the 21st century’ as it is widely spread all over the world and causes a devastating numbers of deaths. However, in comparison with the real black death (plague), the pathological agents of diabetes are not fleas but the high-fat and high calorie diet and poor lifestyle.

The good news is that in most cases, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, treated, and even reversed with proper diet and lifestyle modification. Here are basic but very efficient and proven ways that can prevent or make you free from diabetes.

1Control your weight

Having excess weight or even worse – being obese is the number 1 risk factor for diabetes development. That is why it is of utmost importance to control your weight and keep your body mass index (BMI) in a healthy range of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2; excess body fat, especially in the belly and waist areas, can increase the body’s resistance to insulin.

One of the best ways of weight control is cutting down on sugar intake. It will help to keep your blood glucose levels within healthy parameters and makes it easier to keep your weight in check. Respectively, these two factors help to lower your diabetes risk. According to the study, participants who decreased their added sugar intake reduced insulin secretion by 20% and incremental insulin secretion by 34%, respectively. By reducing these factors, it may be possible to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Thus, you should be mindful of the amount of sugar you consume and minimize eating products that she high in sugar like fizzy drinks. The World Health Organization(WHO) recommends reducing added sugar intake to less than 10% (50 grams – 12 teaspoons) of total energy intake for adults and children. More health benefits would be gained by lowering the level to under 5% or about 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day.

Another good way of controlling your weight is general control of calorie intake. It is generally recommended that women eat 2,000 calories a day and that men eat 2,500 calories a day. But remember that a daily calorie intake is very individual and should be balanced with the expenditure of that energy. Plus your calorie intake has to consist of balanced amounts of proteins, carbs, fats, fibre, and other vital nutrients.

Read below for more methods to keep your weight in a healthy range and reduce your odds of developing diabetes.

2Add more plants to your diet

People suffering from diabetes have to be very cautious about what they eat as food directly affects the blood sugar level which they have to keep in balance. Adding a reasonable amount of plants into the diet has shown positive results in preventing and treating diabetes.

The study reveals that the more diet becomes plant-based the more drops the diabetes rate. Diets of 89,000 Californians were observed during the study and the following results were found:

  • the rate of diabetes in semi-vegetarians (people that eat mostly plant-based diet but do not completely cut on eating meat) dropped by 28%;

  • the diabetes rate was reduced by 51% in pesco vegetarians (vegetarians who eat fish and dairy but omit meat or poultry);

  • vegetarian who eradicated all meat and fish from their diet decreased the very risk by 61%;

  • vegans warded off the risk by 78%.

Legumes have also demonstrated their beneficial effect in maintaining weight and preventing obesity which is the number one cause of type 2 diabetes. During the study, one group was asked to eat more legumes, precisely five cups a week of lentils, chickpeas, split peas, or navy beans and not change anything else in their basic diet. Another group was simply asked to reduce the number of calories they consume daily to 500 calories. It was found that eating legumes could slim waistlines and improve blood sugar control just as effectively as reducing calorie intake. Moreover, legumes improved cholesterol and insulin regulation as well.

3Get moving

Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active are crucial factors for people suffering from diabetes. The benefits of exercise include lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity throughout the body, which can help manage pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

At least 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity is recommended for patients with type 2 diabetes by American Diabetes Association.

Regular walking showed a great impact on patients with Type 2 diabetes. Walking improves insulin sensitivity, glycemic control, and the incidence of obesity. The results of a study revealed that a normal walking past (3-5 km/h) was associated with a 20-30% decline in the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Frequent walking comprising about 16 hours/week reduced the mortality risk from the very disease by 40%.

A Finnish lifestyle study demonstrated a 58% reduction in diabetes risk in participants who walked 30 min/day and occasionally exercised plus lowered their fat intake and ate less saturated fat and more fibre. Moreover, the risk of diabetes was reduced by 64% by participants engaged in vigorous physical activity.

4Sleep enough to promote insulin production

Getting enough sleep is of utmost importance in preventing and treating diabetes as it increases insulin sensitivity and diminishes the risks. A lack of sleep adversely affects your diet, your insulin response, and your mental health if you have diabetes. Not only will sleeping enough help you manage your diabetes, but it will also put you in a better mood and boost your energy levels!

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep can lead to detrimental results such as increased insulin resistance, making you feel hungry and reducing the feeling of fullness after having a meal, raising blood pressure, weakening immunity so that it cannot fight infections, and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression.

In today’s busy world, it is often impossible to get enough sleep due to work demands and lifestyle demands. An interesting study observed that men who have long-term, weekday sleep restrictions had significantly improved insulin sensitivity after three nights of “catch-up sleep” on the weekend. Increasing sleep duration can boost the body’s insulin production, thereby reducing Type 2 diabetes risk in adults.

5Give up smoking

When you smoke, your blood sugar levels rise and become harder to control. Smokers suffering from diabetes require larger doses of insulin to keep their blood sugar close to normal levels. Quitting smoking helps your body use insulin better and makes blood sugar levels easier to manage.

Cigarettes are associated with an increased risk of diabetes, but ironically quitting may give a rise to the very risk too. People who quit smoking tend to gain weight as they start to substitute cigarettes with food, this may explain the temporary period of increased risk of developing a condition closely linked to obesity.

According to the study, those who smoked the most and those who gained the most weight were the most likely to develop diabetes after quitting. On average, people who give up smoking gain about 3.8 kilograms (8.4 pounds) and increased their waist circumference by about 3 centimetres (1.25 inches).

6Limit alcohol consumption

Alcohol has a detrimental effect on all body organs and is linked to various diseases and type 2 diabetes is not an exception. Besides lowering body’s sensitivity to insulin, regular alcohol consumption is also linked with excess weight and obesity. Alcohol has a lot of calories, for instance, one pint of beer (470 ml) has approximately 215 calories which equals to one large slice of pizza.

Alcohol intake and diabetes risk is double-edged sword. This is because moderate not frequent consumption leads to up to 30% lower odds, according to some studies. Whereas when it comes to heavy drinking, no positive risk drop can be observed. One research even shows that people drinking heavily (have 15 drinks a week which is equivalent to 5.1 litres of beer) for more than 4 days a week have 124% higher diabetes odds.

Judging from the above results, moderate or better no drinking definitely wins this battle. For your health sake it is better to limit alcohol intake. On the days when you drink, Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends to go for two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women.

How to keep diabetes away? Let’s sum up

Type 2 diabetes is a widely spread disease that serves as a venom for the lives of people of all ages and walks of life. Unfortunately, the statistics of those who succumb to the very illness are growing. But the good thing is that Type 2 diabetes is almost always preventable, curable, and in some cases even reversible through diet and lifestyle changes. Through the healthy lifestyle choices discussed in this post, you will manage to protect yourself from diabetes and prevent it from happening. It is never too late to start acting.

Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues

If you want to learn more about lung cancer, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only it provides insight into preventing and dealing with lung cancer and other severe conditions but also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. The very article is inspired by this book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.

How not to die Book Cover

Learn more about Type 1 and 2 diabetes with these short but informative animations.

In this touchy video, young lady Sophia opens up about her experiences living with Type 1 diabetes and how she has learned to navigate the challenges that come with it. She also shares the positive changes and personal growth that have resulted from her fight with the condition.

Healthypedia FAQ

Diabetes type 2 occurs when your pancreas can't make enough insulin or the insulin your pancreas makes doesn't work correctly. Consequently, your blood glucose levels (sugar) keep rising.

Overall symptoms of diabetes include increased hunger and thirst, not intended weight loss, frequent urination, blurry vision, extreme fatigue, sores that don’t heal and numbness in the hands or feet.

People over the age of 45 develop type 2 diabetes the most often, but there is a tendency in children and adolescents to succumb to type 2 diabetes too.

The most common factors that can lead to diabetes are obesity, an unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and genetic predisposition.

To prevent diabetes you should maintain a healthy weight or lose extra weight, be more physically active, and enrich your diet with plant food.

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