About 20 % of people who get type 2 diabetes are not overweight, nor are most individuals who get type 1 diabetes. Most people associate type 2 diabetes with being overweight, and frankly, how could we not make this assumption when we consistently hear that obesity is a major trigger of type 2 diabetes? What we don't frequently hear is that only about one-third of obese individuals in the United States get diabetes, as reported by the National Institutes of Health, and, roughly 20 % of people who get type 2 diabetes are of "normal" weight.
Even though being overweight certainly tips the scales in favor of your getting type 2 diabetes, weight has no bearing in one in five cases. People who get type 1 diabetes have a tendency to be either of "normal" weight or underweight when diagnosed. Why? Simply because type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, not a weight-induced insulin-inefficiency condition, and, because individuals with type 1 diabetes create almost no insulin to ferry sugar from the blood stream into the cells, they excrete excess sugar and, with it, calories.
The high percentage of type 2 diabetes among slim populations like the Japanese clearly illustrates that you do not need to be overweight to develop type 2 diabetes. Diabetes specialists agree that excess weight is only one cause of type 2 diabetes and that the underlying causes are very complex and still relatively unknown.
Obesity generally causes insulin resistance, which leads to elevated blood sugars and often diabetes. "However," says Dr. Irl Hirsch, endocrinologist and holder of the Diabetes Treatment and Teaching Chair at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, "there are many other causes of insulin resistance besides obesity. I see this proven every day by the thin, insulin-resistant Asians I treat. Also, we now know that type 2 diabetes has many genetic markers, not one or two as previously thought."
Dr. Gerald Bernstein says that getting type 2 diabetes largely depends upon both the type of genes you've and the metabolic links among glucose, fat metabolism, and insulin action. This mystifying metabolic interplay, says Bernstein, is one of the factors why there's no imminent remedy for diabetes.
But, scrolling via numerous chat boards and diabetes specialist and patient blogs, I saw just how prevalent this myth is. Many people wrote how confounded they had been to get type 2 diabetes and not be overweight or, as this woman did, of genes trumping weight:
"YES!!! You do not need to be overweight to get diabetes! I'm five feet tall and weighed 103 pounds when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It runs in my family and none of us are overweight!"
Jeff O'Connell, a writer for Men's Health magazine, weighing 220 pounds at 6 feet 6 inches, with 12 percent body fat and a 32-inch waist, wrote about his personal disbelief when he discovered he had pre-diabetes. But, then, Jeff's slender grandfather and father both had diabetes.
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