How to reduce the risk of diabetes

We will revisit Insulin Inc. and the ‘glucose sales team’ and look at their difficulties in dealing with insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. To read more about the effect of sugar on the body and what I am talking about when referring to the ‘glucose sales team’ click here.


Ok, lets talk Diabetes. Not as a scare tactic, but to improve your understanding of the condition and there-by improve your ability to make informed decisions on your diet and lifestyle.

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high or too low. Insulin helps balance out blood sugar levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.

Photo from istockphoto

In 2012, the estimated number of people with diabetes in Ireland was 191,380 and this figure is expected to rise to 278,850 by 2030. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable or reversible and its onset is generally within a few weeks or months of birth. Daily injections of insulin are required in order to control blood sugar.

A person with Type 2 diabetes has insulin resistance, meaning their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t react properly to insulin.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being over 40, family history of diabetes, being of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin or being overweight or obese. And now recent studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles negatively impact on insulin sensitivity, which can lead to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

We know that the prevalence of obesity is rising in not only Ireland, but across the globe, and we don’t need research findings to state the obvious that physical activity and reducing sedentary lifestyles help maintain a healthy weight. But we do need research to help understand what is increasing our weight from a diet perspective. Lisa Te Morenga from the University of Otago in New Zealand looked at over 60 studies for a link between dietary sugars and body weight. Miss Morenga found in studies with no strict control of food intake, those who ate a lot of sugar tended to consume more calories and gained more weight while a reduced intake of dietary sugar was associated with a decrease in body weight. Interestingly, sugary drinks were found to be the biggest contributor of dietary sugars. Shockingly, fizzy sugary drinks add calories without making you full. This is because fructose makes up 65% of the sugar in these drinks and fructose doesn’t activate leptin, the fullness hormone. This is one of the reasons why several other studies have linked the consumption of sugary drinks with increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Lets go back to the Glucose Sales team and Insulin Inc. to explain Insulin Resistance.

As discussed in previous last blog, insulin (aka the Glucose sales team), which is produced in the pancreas (aka Insulin Incorporated), is the hormone released by the body after eating in order to shift the glucose from the blood into the cells for storage. In the case of insulin resistance, the muscle, fat and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and can’t easily absorb glucose from the blood stream. In other words, the cell owners are answering the door less often and buying less glucose from the sales team.

This leaves high levels of glucose floating around the blood which alerts the brain and so louder alarms go off at Insulin Inc. forcing more members of the sales team to enter the blood in the attempt to push a hard sell. The sales tactic works in that the blood glucose levels remain within a healthy range and Insulin Inc meet their sales targets, but it is exhausting and the team eventually runs out of steam. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to Type 2 diabetes, diagnosed when blood sugar levels are consistently high after eight hours fasting.

 What causes Insulin resistance?

The exact causes of Insulin resistance are not completely understood, but scientists believe the major contributors are excess weight and physical inactivity. Some experts believe obesity, especially excess fat around the waist, is a primary cause of insulin resistance as studies have shown that belly fat produces hormones that can cause serious health problems such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Physical Inactivity is associated with insulin resistance in many studies to date. I urge you to have a look at this article on a recent research paper showing the negative effect on insulin sensitivity from 5 hours of uninterrupted sitting, yes sitting, read here.

Muscle cells are the biggest buyers of glucose in the body by far. After exercising, muscles become more sensitive to insulin and take up blood glucose without hesitation. In fact, exercise allows muscles to absorb glucose without even requiring insulin, meaning less pressure and demand on the pancreas. It stands to reason, the more muscle a body has, the more glucose it can burn, the more control over blood glucose levels. Speaking of standing, cell sensitivity to insulin is improved with standing. Read the article here.

So that concludes the sugar saga spanning over two blog posts. I really hope it has informed you to make better food choices and at more appropriate times, whilst sitting less and moving more!

Go on, give your staff at Insulin Inc. some well earned annual leave by starting a gradual exercise habit today, a daily walk is taking a step in the right direction. I hope my nutrition advice and information in this blog has helped you all.

Thanks again for reading.