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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Nearly 17 million Americans are affected by Type II or adult-onset diabetes and this condition is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.

The bad news is that this number is projected to continue increasing as obesity continues to increase; the good news is that significant improvement in blood sugar control can be made without medication if dietary and exercise recommendations are followed.

Type II diabetes has a different cause than Type I: patients with type 2 diabetes do not respond properly to insulin, the hormone that normally allows the body to convert blood sugar into energy or store it in cells to be used later. Eventually, people with type 2 diabetes cannot make enough insulin to meet the body's needs.  As a result, blood sugar increases, but the body is unable to use it properly, and the body's cells are actually starving for energy.  Over the long term, high blood sugar can lead to medical complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, infections, and blindness.

Family history is the number-one risk factor for type 2 diabetes and obesity is a strong second.  Even individuals at high risk can lower their chances of developing it by maintaining a healthy body weight

Although people with diabetes can prevent or delay complications by keeping blood glucose levels close to normal, preventing or delaying the development of type 2 diabetes in the first place is even better. The results of a major federally funded study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), show how to do so. This study of 3,234 people at high risk for diabetes showed that moderate diet and exercise resulting in a 5- to 7-percent weight loss can delay and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes.  The results showed that people in the lifestyle modification group reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Average weight loss in the first year of the study was 15 pounds. Lifestyle modification was even more effective in those 60 and older. They reduced their risk by 71 percent. People receiving the drug metformin reduced their risk by 31 percent.

The American Diabetic Association (ADA) has issued nutrition recommendations which include strategies to prevent Type II diabetes and to how to deal with it once a diagnosis has been made. The ADA recommends that weight management through a low-fat diet and exercise can improve a person's response to insulin. They also recommend reducing calories, which can help people with diabetes maintain more stable blood glucose; restricting fat, which has been shown to lead to longer-term weight loss; consuming no more than 20% of calories from protein; and consuming less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat.

Created: 10/27/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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