You may already know being obese and having a family history of diabetes are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. But what are the other possible causes of the disease? New research is helping shed light on some of them.
Know What Increases Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
What raises your risk of type 2 diabetes? If you don’t workout, are obese, or have a host of family members with type 2 diabetes, the odds that you, too, will catch the disease become relatively high. That risk only grows as you age, especially after age 45, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center. And type 2 diabetes is on the rise: According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 84 million adults in the United States have prediabetes, and nearly half of all American adults have either prediabetes or diabetes.
You may already know that controlling your weight is one important factor in managing your type 2 diabetes risk. The Mayo Clinic notes that the more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant to the hormone insulin you become. (Insulin resistance is the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.)
Fortunately, even a tiny reduction in weight can help lower your risk: The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests trying to lose about 5 to 10 percent of your body weight — for a 200-pound person, about 10 or 20 pounds — to help prevent prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes.
Managing your risk of type 2 diabetes is important because once a person develops type 2 diabetes, they may face a number of related health issues, including heart disease. Indeed, the American Heart Association (AHA) notes that at least 68 percent of people age 65 or older who have diabetes die from some form of heart disease. That’s because the insulin resistance that is a major part of diabetes can put you at risk for a number of other conditions, including high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, according to the AHA. Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from heart disease as those without diabetes.
Having your weight under control is not the only way you can mitigate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a complicated disease, and researchers continue to discover evidence that the risk factors are more varied and complex than once thought.
While lesser-known risk factors may not be as well established as overweight or inactivity, they point to the importance of taking diabetes screening and prevention as a priority, especially in light of other health conditions you or your family members might be facing. If you have questions about any of these risk factors, be sure to talk to your doctor so you can develop the best diabetes prevention plan.
Another Risk Factor for Developing Type 2 Diabetes: Breast Cancer
Maternal Diet During Pregnancy Can Affect Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk
An unhealthy diet during pregnancy may put a woman’s children in a risk of developing type 2 diabetes as adults. According to a study published in July 2012 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, infants born to mothers who ate poorly during their first trimester were more likely to show irregularities in blood sugar and insulin levels that could translate to a higher risk for type 2 diabetes. The good news: By eating a nutritious pregnancy diet with plenty of produce, as well as whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, moms can help give their babies a healthystart in life.
There is a Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Type 2 Diabetes
A review published in February 2015 in the journal PLoS One suggests a link between sleep apnea, a condition that disrupts sleep by causing breathing problems, and type 2 diabetes. Scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China looked more deeply into this health relationship in a group of Chinese adults and found that those with the worst obstructive sleep apnea also had the poorest control of blood sugar, as measured by the A1C test, which indicates a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels.
Snoring with pauses in breathing, gasping or choking during the night, and daytime sleepiness are common signs of sleep apnea. If you experience these symptoms or aren’t satisfied with the quality and length of sleep you are getting, talk to your doctor about taking a sleep assessment and possibly getting treatment for sleep apnea.
How Environmental Toxins Can Increase Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Exposure to industrial chemicals called phthalates appears to be linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, suggests a study published in July 2012 in the journal Diabetes Care.
Researchers found that older adults with higher levels of certain phthalate compounds in their blood, indicating higher exposure to the chemicals, were more likely to have disrupted insulin regulation, which plays a role in the development of diabetes. Phthalates are widely used in everyday products including plastics, packaging, and cosmetics.
There is not enough evidence to prove that phthalates contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes, but to play it safe, you can avoid plastics labeled with the number 3, which contain phthalates, and look for beauty products labeled as “phthalate-free.”
‘Small but Real’: Why Statin Medications Are a Possible Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes
One study published in March 2017 in the journal Drugs & Aging looked at more than 8,000 Australian women over age 70 who were taking statins, and found that the medications were associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes — and that the risk continued to increase the more statins these women took. Other studies confirm that the effect on diabetes risk is small but real.
“People who are already at risk for diabetes might be pushed over the edge by the use of statins,” says Dr. Ahmann. But, he points out, “the benefits of taking statins, if that’s what you need to do, far outweigh the risks.”
Meanwhile, he says, this news should give doctors and patients pause if the need for statins is not completely clear. Trying another approach to cholesterol management first might be a better tactic.
How Low Vitamin D Can Play a Role in Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Vitamin D plays a role in the body’s insulin production and blood sugar regulation, and people with type 2 diabetes tend to have lower than normal levels of vitamin D, but the relationship is still unclear. “I am not convinced that vitamin D is the answer,” says Andrew Ahmann, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and clinical nutrition at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to show that increasing vitamin D levels improves blood sugar levels or reduces the risk for diabetes. Until more research is done, it can’t hurt to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D — whether that’s through safe sun exposure (about 15 minutes a day), eating vitamin D–rich foods, such as fatty fish and fortified milk, or taking a supplement as directed by your doctor. Keep in mind that vitamin D supplementation does not take the place of other recommendations your doctor might have to manage or prevent type 2 diabetes.
Reducing Your Exposure to Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
While these findings may be cause for concern, don’t forget that the traditional risk factors for type 2 diabetes — such as excess weight, ethnicity, and family history — remain leading causes of the disease. The more you know about your possible risk for type 2 diabetes and other serious chronic diseases, the better choices you can make to prevent or manage diabetes and control your health.