With such a surplus of food nowadays, it's easy to overindulge without physical activity, leading to weight gain and, for some people, eventual Type 2 diabetes. "It's a lack of exercise and still eating like you're 20 years old," says Susan M. De Abate, a nurse and certified diabetes educator and team coordinator of the diabetes education program at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
As with many conditions, treatment of type 2 diabetes begins with lifestyle changes, particularly in your diet and exercise. If you have type 2 diabetes, speak to your doctor and diabetes educator about an appropriate diet. You may be referred to a dietitian. It is also a good idea to speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise program that is more vigourous than walking to determine how much and what kind of exercise is appropriate.
The woman’s weight may also play a role. Changing hormone levels and weight gain are part of a healthy pregnancy, but both changes make it more difficult for the body to keep up with its need for insulin. This may lead to gestational diabetes. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta also produces insulin-blocking hormones, which might result in a woman’s blood-glucose levels becoming elevated if there isn’t enough insulin to counter this effect.
With gestational diabetes, risks to the unborn baby are even greater than risks to the mother. Risks to the baby include abnormal weight gain before birth, breathing problems at birth, and higher obesity and diabetes risk later in life. Risks to the mother include needing a cesarean section due to an overly large baby, as well as damage to heart, kidney, nerves, and eye.
Other potentially important mechanisms associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance include: increased breakdown of lipids within fat cells, resistance to and lack of incretin, high glucagon levels in the blood, increased retention of salt and water by the kidneys, and inappropriate regulation of metabolism by the central nervous system. However, not all people with insulin resistance develop diabetes, since an impairment of insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells is also required.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes. People who are overweight and lose as little as 7 percent of their body weight and who increase physical activity (for example, walking 30 minutes per day) can decrease their risk of diabetes mellitus by more than 50%. Metformin and acarbose, drugs that are used to treat diabetes, may reduce the risk of diabetes in people with impaired glucose regulation.
Poor vision, limited manual dexterity due to arthritis, tremor, or stroke, or other physical limitations may make monitoring blood glucose levels more difficult for older people. However, special monitors are available. Some have large numerical displays that are easier to read. Some provide audible instructions and results. Some monitors read blood glucose levels through the skin and do not require a blood sample. People can consult a diabetes educator to determine which meter is most appropriate.
Beta cells are vulnerable to more than just bad genes, which may explain the associations between type 2 diabetes and environmental factors that aren't related to how much fat a body has or where it is stored. Beta cells carry vitamin D receptors on their surface, and people with vitamin D deficiency are at increased risk for type 2. Plus, several studies have shown that people with higher levels of toxic substances in their blood—such as from the PCBs found in fish fat—are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, though a cause-and-effect relationship hasn't been proved. (Toxic substances and vitamin D have also been implicated in type 1 diabetes, but the disease mechanism may be unrelated to what's going on in type 2.)
Type 2 diabetes, which is often diagnosed when a person has an A1C of at least 7 on two separate occasions, can lead to potentially serious issues, like neuropathy, or nerve damage; vision problems; an increased risk of heart disease; and other diabetes complications. A person’s A1C is the two- to three-month average of his or her blood sugar levels.