How to Avoid (or Recover From) Diabetes

Keep this worldwide epidemic from affecting your life.

Diabetes is now the eighth-biggest killer in the world, accounting for 1.5 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization (who). New cases of diabetes have nearly quadrupled worldwide since 1980, rising to a staggering 422 million people annually by 2016.

Once considered a disease of affluence, diabetes has now spread to every corner of the globe, with two thirds of cases occurring in low-to-middle-income countries. And the price tag, at a crushing $827 billion annual cost, has the who admitting in its first Global Diabetes Report that the disease could threaten the economies of all nations.

The truth is, though, that we have tremendous power over this disease—through the way we live.

What Is Diabetes?

There are three main forms of the disease. Type 1, with no known cure, is where the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin and as a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. Type 2 results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin and comprises the majority of people with diabetes around the world. The third, gestational diabetes, is a temporary condition in women with high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy.

The mechanisms of the disease are intricate. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California–San Francisco, the way your body stores fat is a carefully regulated process controlled primarily by the hormone leptin. If we gain excess weight, the additional body fat produces extra leptin that sends satiation signals to the brain, causing us to stop feeling hungry.

But as we consume a diet heavy in sugar and processed foods, our body no longer hears the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat. This continued onslaught produces abnormally high blood sugar levels with repeated surges in insulin, in turn causing cells to become insulin resistant. In short, there is a metabolic miscommunication in the body when leptin and insulin levels are continually disrupted, eventually leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Grave Health Implications

Those with Type 2 diabetes are two to four times more likely to get cardiovascular disease, and 80 percent of these will die prematurely by an estimated 12 to 14 years. Other repercussions include nerve damage, infections leading to amputations, blindness, kidney failure and increased medical costs two to five times higher than for the average person (International Journal of Health Sciences).

The steady rise in diabetes is to a large degree a manifestation of our flawed, modern society. Fueled by rapid urbanization, unhealthy foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the march of diabetes has closely paralleled that of obesity; almost 90 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese (U.S. National Library of Medicine). Such is the interdependence between each other that the term “diabesity” has been coined.

Still, science fiddles while Rome burns, seeking the unlikely prospect of a cure via the pharmaceutical pipeline or genetic cause. In fact, a reversal of trends may lie in the simple notion of a lifestyle change.

Effective Diabetes Lifestyle Tips

Studies show that exercise may be one of the most powerful ways of getting diabetes under control. It increases the number of insulin receptors in muscle and the sensitivity of the body to insulin, which releases the pancreas of the burden of constant insulin production. Exercise also results in the release of appetite-suppressing hormones and neurotransmitters that help to forestall overeating.

Nutritionally, if you have or are in danger of getting diabetes, you should eliminate all refined grains, sugars and processed foods, especially those made with fructose and high fructose corn syrup.

Michael Pollan, authorof The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, advocates building your day around real foods—fruits and vegetables supported by lean protein and a smaller consumption of whole-grain carbohydrates.

This approach also stays clear of chemicals and genetically modified organisms, focusing on organic and sustainable food sources.

What Can Be Done?

Scientists have proved that even small amounts of weight loss (as little as 10 pounds) can keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range and reduce the risk of diabetic complications. But further, you can actually reverse diabetes or come off medications altogether, according to Ann Albright, Ph.D., director of diabetes translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In one study, people with Type 2 diabetes exercised about three hours a week and limited their calories to between 1,200 and 1,800 a day. Within a year, about 10 percent improved to the point that their blood sugar levels were no longer in the diabetes range, and 15 to 20 percent were able to stop taking their diabetes medications altogether (

All this information adds up to great news: You don’t have to be part of the diabetes epidemic. But remember, particularly if you are diabetic or prediabetic, your lifestyle will make or break you. Be mindful about your habits from day to day. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods and get your body moving to avoid becoming a statistic.