Can I avoid diabetes if it runs in my family?

Sabina Muminović Last updated: 26 October 2023

Diabetes is one of the most widespread medical conditions. It has spread dramatically in recent years and even became the seventh leading cause of death in 2016. Do you know if you are at risk?

According to the World Health Organization, we are facing a global epidemic of diabetes. The number of afflicted has skyrocketed from 108 million in 1980 to a staggering 422 million in 2014. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, and cardiovascular conditions.

Many among us have close relatives with the disease, which leads to worries about our own health. Let’s take a look at what causes it and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic condition which causes your body to produce very little or no insulin or doesn’t respond to it appropriately. Insulin is responsible for reducing sugar (glucose) content in your blood after each meal you eat.

There are three different types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Patients have to supply it regularly.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common and the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Your pancreas still produces insulin, but either not enough or your body has grown resistant to its effects. This is called insulin resistance. Obesity is a huge risk factor. People with type 2 diabetes have to keep their condition in check with proper nutrition, weight management, and regular exercise.
  • Gestational diabetes affects approximately 2 to 10% of women during pregnancy. The condition usually stabilises after birth, but women who have experienced gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Even though it is a lifelong condition without a cure, its progression can be delayed and consequences avoided with medications, diet, and physical activity.

Your strongest weapons are knowledge, awareness, and preventive measures. One of such is genetic testing, which can alert you to an important contributor to the development of diabetes.

Stethoscope, glucometer and lancing device

Insulin sensitivity and your genes

Insulin sensitivity describes how sensitive the body is to the effects of insulin. Higher sensitivity means that your body requires less insulin to lower blood glucose levels.

Individuals with low insulin sensitivity need more insulin, and their body compensates by producing more of it in order to keep blood sugar stable. But high insulin production leads to health complications – damage to blood vessels, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Researchers have uncovered that certain genes may protect us from a drop in insulin sensitivity. For example, people with two protective variants of the PCSK1 gene have 60 per cent higher insulin sensitivity in comparison to those with two common copies.

How can I increase my insulin sensitivity?

And even if you are unlucky and not carrying the protective variant of the PCSK1 gene, you can still do a lot to protect your body’s insulin sensitivity.

  • Keep your weight in check.
  • Make sure to keep your body mass index below 25.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Make sure your meals always include foods rich in fibre,
    • especially soluble fibre, because it can help increase insulin sensitivity. Legumes, oatmeal, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, and oranges are the perfect food of choice.
    • If you like cinnamon, we have good news: a teaspoon of cinnamon daily in your drink or food helps reduce both short and long-term blood sugar levels.

    A combination of a healthy lifestyle and knowing your genetic predispositions is a strong tool for helping you keep blood glucose in check and your insulin sensitivity high!

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