How to Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs either when the pancreas cannot secrete sufficient levels of insulin: a vital substance needed to control glucose (sugar) levels in the blood; or when the body cannot use the insulin produced.1 There are several types of diabetes; the three main types are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. There is no cure for diabetes; it can only be treated to manage the symptoms. This article will explain diabetes in more detail and discuss how you can reduce your risk of diabetes.  

What types of diabetes are there? 

As previously mentioned, there are three main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.2 

Type 1 is an autoimmune condition where the pancreas is attacked, meaning it does not produce insulin.3 A person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes produces very little or no insulin in the pancreas, meaning that blood sugar levels are left highly unregulated. This can be fatal if left undiagnosed or untreated. 

Type 2  can occur when the insulin made by the pancreas does not work or when the pancreas does not make enough.4  Type 2 diabetes is mainly caused by diet and too much intake of sugary foods. This means that the insulin in the body becomes immune and resistant to the glucose and stops working. The majority of type 2 diabetics are obese and have a higher body-fat percentage.5

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy – mostly in overweight mothers or during high-risk pregnancies.6 This means that the hormones produced by the body to sustain the placenta become immune to insulin. Therefore, pregnant women need to be careful of their diets during their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can be reversible whilst type 1 and type 2 are irreversible. 

The role of insulin and glucose 

After eating any meal, the hormone insulin allows the glucose (sugar) in the food to enter the bloodstream and acts as a source of energy for cells and muscles for respiration to occur.7 Respiration is vital for the production of energy (in the form of ATP) so that we can go about our day-to-day lives. Insulin is only secreted when the hormone sends signals of glucose entering the body.  Insulin also regulates glucose in the body, making sure that any excess glucose is stored as glycogen and then turned into fat. 

What is the risk of too much glycogen?

The regulation of insulin works cyclically. Once glucose is converted to glycogen and is stored as fat, the glycogen can then be converted back to glucose when the body requires more energy. The conversion can only happen if the person is active. Inactivity can lead to a build-up of fat and eventually obesity, which is a major risk factor for diabetes. 

What are the causes of diabetes?

As mentioned previously, obesity plays a large role in causing diabetes. There are different causes for the different types of diabetes. According to Diabetes UK, type 1 diabetics have inherited genes that have increased their chances of developing diabetes.12 This means that it could have been inherited by parents or in the family history. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed at a young age. In England and Wales alone, 96% of children with diabetes have type 1.8 Other causes include geographical location and environmental factors.8 

Type 2 diabetes is caused more often by lifestyle factors.5 A person can develop type 2 diabetes when they consume too much sugar and no longer respond to insulin or do not produce any insulin. This means that blood sugar levels remain high, meaning that it could end up in urine and increase the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases. As mentioned previously, inactivity and obesity are leading contributors to type 2 diabetes as blood sugar levels remain high. Other factors include age, blood pressure, and race and ethnicity, with black and minority ethnic people being more prone to the disease.5

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

  • Feeling thirsty and thus frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Fruity breath
  • High levels of glucose in the urine – something that a doctor or GP will immediately notice before referring patients to a 12-hour fasting blood test. 
  • Other symptoms include dark patches forming on the skin. 

After a diagnosis of diabetes

Treatment of diabetes can occur in 2 ways. Those with type 1 diabetes will have to inject themselves with insulin before or after meals to keep up with the little or no insulin that the body produces. Those with type 2 diabetes are immune to insulin and therefore cannot take insulin injections. Type 2 diabetic patients need to watch their diets – making sure to eat limited sugary foods and become more active. However, patients who do not keep up with the treatment of diabetes are prone to other diseases such as kidney failure, diabetic neuropathy, and nephropathy. 

How can I reduce the risk of getting diabetes?

The NHS provides free courses such as the diabetes prevention programme which can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in patients. These include: 

Diet – Healthy eating can reduce the risk of getting diabetes. Changes in diet such as increasing fibre intake by eating more fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, pasta, and cereals rather than white bread and other highly processed foods. As well as this, it’s important to drink lots of water and avoid sugary drinks, snacks, and too much salt. 

Exercise – Remaining healthy means using up the same amount of energy that is consumed in food. Therefore, glycogen in the body can be burned up in respiration rather than stored as fat. Doctors recommended time exercising for 150 minutes per week.13 This does not have to be only hard exercise as a simple routine of walking or light jogging also counts. 

Alcohol – Recent studies have shown that 2 glasses of wine results in a daily sugar limit in adults per day.10 This is worse when using spirits and mixers such as fizzy drinks. Alcohol must be consumed in moderation, especially when pre-diabetic. 

Smoking – People who smoke are 30% more likely to develop diabetes than people who do not smoke at all.11 This can also lead to things like heart disease, and kidney diseases as well as cause other health issues such as cancers.11  It is better to quit smoking before reaching the level of pre-diabetes. 

Overall, diabetes is a chronic condition which cannot be cured once diagnosed. There are many things that you can do to reduce the risk of diabetes such as diet, exercise, and limiting alcohol consumption. The NHS diabetes prevention programme can help patients to reduce their symptoms.  


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Thanucha Sooriapatham

Master of Science - MS, Science communication student, The University of Sheffield, England
Thanucha is a BSc (Hons) Pharmacology and Physiology graduate with a strong interest in journalism, scientific content writing, and editing.
She completed and passed MCB80.3x: Fundamentals of Neuroscience, Part 3: The Brain - a course of study offered by HarvardX, an online learning initiative of Harvard University. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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