Type 2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, usually makes itself present in adults, as the name suggests. However, it is being seen in younger and younger people, even pre-teens. Why is this the case? What is causing this type 2 diabetes epidemic?
There is a difference between type 1, or juvenile, diabetes, and type 2. It is generally thought that type 1 diabetes, which results from the pancreas being unable to synthesize as much insulin as the body needs, is a genetic disorder, whereas in type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin but the body cannot use it properly, is caused by insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas produces insulin, but the body does not react to the presence of insulin in the normal way. Instead of using insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells of the body to be used for fuel, the body basically ignores the insulin in someone with insulin resistance. Although the susceptibility to developing insulin resistance may have a genetic component, the triggers of insulin resistance are entirely lifestyle-dependent.
What does this mean? It means that, although some people may become insulin resistant more quickly or easily than others, it is possible to avoid the condition by adjusting one’s lifestyle.
The mechanism behind insulin resistance is much like the mechanism behind addiction. If the body is flooded with large doses of a chemical repeatedly over time, it gets “used to” that chemical and the reaction is lessened. Over time, it takes more and more of the chemical to acheive the same reaction. An insulin resistant body is so used to being flooded with insulin that the insulin no longer achieves what it is supposed to achieve – that is, the transport of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells.
Insulin is produced in response to the consumption of sugar. Simple carbohydrates, quickly converted by the body to sugar, also produce spikes in the level of insulin. Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastry, cookies, cake, etc) therefore result in the kind of “flooding” of insulin that result in insulin resistance, and by extension, type 2 diabetes.
Although some people may be able to “get away with” eating loads of refined and sugary foods without developing type 2 diabetes, reducing consumption of those foods and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels steady all day is the best way to prevent this disease. As type 2 diabetes becomes more prevalent, it is important to keep its causes in mind.