Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is a medical condition that prevents the body from properly processing blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is highly associated with excess weight and afflicts many obese people, putting them at risk of disabling symptoms and complications.
Because type 2 diabetes and its precursors are closely tied to obesity, weight loss is often all that is needed to improve or resolve them. Even a moderate amount of weight loss can help many people reduce diabetes medications and even put the disease into remission.
When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into a sugar called glucose. Glucose travels through the bloodstream and supplies energy to all of our cells. However, before our cells can use glucose as energy, they need a hormone called insulin. The pancreas detects the presence of glucose in our blood after we eat and releases insulin to balance our blood sugar levels.
“Insulin takes the blood sugar that’s floating around in our bloodstream and puts it into the places we need it,” says Dr. Craig Primack, a medical obesity specialist. According to Dr. Primack, insulin is “like the key in the lock,” opening the door for our muscles, organs and fat to take in glucose and put it to use.
When insulin is no longer able to fulfill this crucial role, we can gradually develop type 2 diabetes as our cells become unable to process high levels of glucose in the blood.
Though it is not entirely clear why insulin stops functioning properly, it is generally agreed that obesity and physical inactivity are contributors to type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity. When our bodies have more fatty tissue, especially in the abdomen, our cells become more resistant to insulin and more is required to reduce blood sugar levels.
- Inactivity. Because physical activity uses up glucose for energy, it can lower blood sugar levels. Physical activity also helps with weight control and makes cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin.
Other risk factors for diabetes include:
- Age. Anyone can develop diabetes, but those over 45 are at higher risk.
- Family history. If a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes, you will be at higher risk.
- Race. You will be at higher risk if you are black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander.
Stages of Development
It takes time for insulin to stop functioning properly. The path to type 2 diabetes can be broken down into these stages:
- Insulin resistance. The body’s cells stop responding properly to insulin’s effects. The pancreas compensates by pumping out more insulin, keeping blood glucose levels from becoming abnormal.
- Prediabetes. As insulin becomes increasingly ineffective, the pancreas continues to release more insulin to reduce blood glucose levels. Though insulin levels continue to rise, the body becomes more resistant to its effects. The pancreas can no longer keep up and blood glucose levels begin to rise above the normal range.
- Type 2 diabetes. With the pancreas no longer able to balance glucose, blood glucose levels remain abnormally high and continue to rise.
The time it takes to progress through these stages varies. However, without treatment or lifestyle changes, prediabetes typically results in type 2 diabetes within 10 years.
Symptoms and Complications
Though glucose is important to our bodies, abnormally high levels can result in poor health and medical consequences.
Insulin resistance and prediabetes typically cause no symptoms, but may lead to increased hunger 30 to 90 minutes after a meal. People often suffer from these conditions, and even type 2 diabetes, for years without realizing. However, symptoms of diabetes can include:
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing wounds
- Fatigue and irritability
- Unexpected weight loss
- Frequent or recurrent infections
- Increased thirst and more frequent urination
- Increased hunger and hunger soon after eating
- Patches of dark skin, especially in the armpits or neck
As glucose levels climb higher and higher, they can cause serious nerve and blood vessel damage. This puts those who suffer from type 2 diabetes at an increased risk of complications like:
- Heart disease
- Kidney failure
- Lower limb amputation
Testing and Treatment
A blood sugar test can be used to assess glucose levels and determine if you have diabetes or are at risk of developing the condition.
Medications are often used to control type 2 diabetes. However, these medications must be taken indefinitely and are not a long-term solution. According to Dr. Robert Ziltzer, a medical obesity specialist, some of these medications can even lead to weight gain, which “perpetrates the problem of being diabetic.” Instead, he suggests weight loss as the primary form of treatment.
“If you continue gaining weight, you’re less likely to ever be cured of diabetes,” Dr. Ziltzer says. “Losing weight will improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and as a result that insulin will work better.”Related Posts
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