Over 34 million people in the United States suffer from type 2 diabetes. While the condition is most common in people over the age of 45, more and more young adults, teens and children are developing it. Type 2 diabetes goes hand in hand with obesity. Americans have significantly increased their calorie intake over the years, so it’s no surprise that the rise of diabetes followed, doubling over the last 20 years.
Diabetes is a disease related to the body’s ability to create insulin. Insulin is necessary to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the muscles for energy. It also helps the liver absorb and store glucose for use later as energy when we exercise or become stressed. Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, fatigue, irritability, and blurred vision.
It’s long been known that being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes, even more than genetics. But the reason behind the connection wasn’t fully understood until recently. In 2008 a Harvard University study found a physiological path that sets into motion a series of reactions that lead to insulin resistance.
As we eat, the nutrients we take in need to be processed, used and stored as necessary. The pancreas, an organ located in the abdomen, converts the food into fuel for the body’s cells. Certain cells in the pancreas release insulin when blood sugar rises as a result of the food we eat. If everything goes as normal, some food is used immediately for energy to think, breathe, move about or even exercise. And some food is stored for later during periods when we aren’t actively eating but still need the fuel for involuntary processes, like while we’re sleeping.
Now imagine overeating. When you eat too much, part of the cell that is responsible for processing fats and proteins , the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), has to work overtime to manage the extra food. The extra work causes stress and a signal is sent out telling the cells to slow down or stop receiving insulin. It’s an alarm to the system causing a response to deal with all the extra food your body isn’t ready to use or store. Normally this is a short-term response and the systems return to normal once the food has been fully digested.
Imagine putting gas in your car. When the car is full the pump senses that the tank is full, and the pump shuts off. If you continue to try and fill the tank, the pump continues to shut off. Now imagine that the pump is broken. You’ll fill the tank and the rest of the fuel, having nowhere to go, streams out of the car and onto the pavement. It’s a dangerous situation. When the insulin has nowhere to go, the extra nutrients (fuel) are not stored as energy and are then converted to fat.
In our “super sized” society, many meals contain more than the standard daily allowance of 2000 calories. It’s very easy to overeat on a regular basis. It’s understood that when we consume more calories than are necessary for our body to function properly, we gain weight. Unfortunately, this causes the body to become stressed trying to deal with the overload of nutrients so frequently that it is the same as having a constant alarm to the system. The insulin receptors are always turned down. The result is a chronic condition: diabetes type 2.
One of the best ways to improve your overall health is to reach and maintain a healthy weight. This will allow you to reduce your risk for chronic diseases like diabetes. You’ll also benefit from an increase in energy and a boost to your self-confidence. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to reach your healthy weight.