What Causes Diabetes?

by Ben Ong

what causes diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the world today. A new report from the CDC in 2015 revealed that 30.3 million Americans, (almost 10% of the U.S. population) have type 2 diabetes[i]. Another 84.1 million have pre-diabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to type 2 diabetes in less than five years[ii].

Depending on which estimates you look at, the worldwide number of people with diabetes are expected to be between 439-500 million by 2030[iii].

So we have to ask ourselves two questions?

Firstly, what is type 2 diabetes?

And secondly what is causing this massive rise in the numbers of cases?

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious health condition that occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body can’t use it properly. If left untreated, high blood glucose levels can cause serious health complications, including sudden loss of consciousness, limb amputation, permanent blindness and even death.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic form of diabetes. This means it is a type of diabetes you inflict upon yourself by making bad dietary and lifestyle choices.

High sugar foods, processed foods, fast food, fried food are all bad for you, and the damage they cause, over decades can cause your body to become diabetic[iv].

Other factors, such as high stress and a sedentary lifestyle, contribute to an increase risk of developing diabetes.

what causes diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by the resistance of the body to the hormone insulin.

Insulin is a natural hormone secreted by your pancreas; its job is to regulate your blood sugar levels. It does this by telling your cells when to absorb sugars and nutrients from your bloodstream.

When you eat food, your body release insulin and your cells absorb the sugars and nutrients so you have energy.

However, if you are diabetic you are “insulin resistant”. This is when your cells become unresponsive to insulin so these cells are no longer able to absorb and store nutrients as efficiently[v].

So being insulin resistant or diabetic, means that your cells fail to absorb the sugar in your bloodstream, resulting in lower energy levels. But there are also more serious health implications.

Why Is Type 2 Diabetes Dangerous?

Simply having high blood sugar causes damage to your circulatory system. It hardens the arteries and damages the cell walls of the blood vessels. There is also increased risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and nerve problems.

Additional side effects caused by type 2 diabetes range from waking up at night to urinate to permanent blindness; from amputations and loss of limbs all the way up to early, sudden death. In fact, one person dies from diabetes every 7 seconds[vi]… so by the time you read this sentence alone, another person will have died.

what causes diabetes

Is It Just Diet That Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

The global prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing at a rapid rate due to a number of factors. Some of which are beyond our control, such as the changes in lifestyle associated with increased urbanization (6).

People in cities have a noticeably unhealthier diet and lifestyle than those who live in rural areas. Urban areas have a greater energy and fat intake and this increases the risk of obesity and chronic disease like type 2 diabetes. Rural areas also consume a greater amount of complex carbs and whole grains, while urban areas shift more toward processed simple carbohydrates[vii].

Urban areas also consume more animal products, more sugar and more fast food and processed foods.

what causes diabetes

We can also look at developing countries and see that as populations move more into cities we see an increase in metabolic disease levels such as diabetes. In China, we have seen a population shift as the rural population moves into cities. This has led to a shift to a more Western-style diet, higher in meats, refined grains, and edible oils but lower in fiber ii.

This shift in dietary patterns has been accompanied by a high and further increasing prevalence of diabetes in China[viii]

But it’s not just city living that is causing an increase in the numbers of obese people and diabetics…

Sugar – The Invisible Killer

Added sugar – sometimes known as invisible sugar – is a big problem.

Since the 1960s, food companies have been cutting fat out of food. “Low fat” is a good marketing slogan. It improves sales and tricks people into thinking its healthier.

what causes diabetes

However, low fat means low flavor. And so in attempts to inject flavor into food, they add sugar. And instead of calling it sugar they call it Dextrose, Glucose or even Ethyl Maltol. In fact, there are almost 60 different names for sugar and nearly 100 more if you count the synthetic sugars and sweeteners that they add to food.

Sugar is addictive. According to some studies, it’s as addictive as crack cocaine[ix], and guess who knows this… food companies. They have added sugar to almost everything you can imagine, and a fair few things you can’t. There are steaks and sausages with added sugar, your smoked fish is now full of added sugar… everything from the bread you eat to the milk you drink has added sugar… and its killing you.

Added Sugar Is Everywhere

what causes diabetesAccording to the USDA, white bread has an average of 4.49 grams of sugar per portion,4.1 (91%) of which is added. Wholewheat bread, which you would think is healthier, has 5.57 grams of sugar, 5.0, (89.7%) of which is added sugar.

Added sugar is everywhere and its invisible… you eat more of it than you think.

Still don’t believe me?

Let’s say you are a very healthy person, and you only buy raw ingredients and cook everything you eat yourself…you would think you are safe from added sugar, right?


Nowadays we selectively breed our fruit and vegetables to be uniform in shape, crisper in texture and… sweeter in taste.

We are literally breeding the nutrition out of our fruits and vegetables while increasing the amount of sugar.

Everything from salad to strawberries to the corn you eat is selectively bred to be sweeter, so as to not taste “boring” compared to the added sugar foods you eat every day.

The most commonly bought type of sweet corn purchased today in the US is called “super-sweet corn”… it is 10-15x sweeter than normal corn, contains 10x less protein and they have bred out almost all of the vitamin A that naturally occurred in corn.. which is why its white, not yellow anymore.

The “sweet corn” you buy in the store nowadays is literally 40% sugar, to put that in perspective, most candy bars you buy are around the same percentage…

Can Type 2 Diabetes Be Reversed?

what causes diabetesIn the last decade, research funded by the American Diabetes Association, the World Diabetes Federation and a number of other diabetes research charities have all indicated that type 2 diabetes is reversible.

This runs counter to the position of some big pharmaceutical companies who make billions selling lifelong “treatments and management options” for type 2 diabetes.

Reversing diabetes is possible and the reversal can be achieved through a combination of dietary improvements, lifestyle changes, and nutritional supplements.

If you want to find out more about how to start reversing your diabetes, you should read this article here.

Reference List

[i] CDC Report on Diabetes and Prediabetes https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0718-diabetes-report.html [Last Accesssed 20/10/2017]

[ii] Chen, L., Magliano, D. J., & Zimmet, P. Z. (2012). The worldwide epidemiology of type 2 diabetes mellitus—present and future perspectives. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 8(4), 228-236.

[iii] Guariguata L, Whiting DR, Hambleton I, Beagley J, Linnenkamp U, Shaw JE. Global estimates of diabetes prevalence for 2013 and projections for 2035. Diabetes research and clinical practice. 2014 Feb 1;103(2):137-49.

[iv] Kahn SE, Hull RL, Utzschneider KM. Mechanisms linking obesity to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nature. 2006 Dec 14;444(7121):840.Daneman D. Type 1 diabetes. The Lancet. 2006 Mar 17;367(9513):847-58.

[v] Abdul-Ghani MA, DeFronzo RA. Pathogenesis of insulin resistance in skeletal muscle. BioMed Research International. 2010 Apr 26;2010.

[vi] Stats courtesy of the world diabetes federation and Cigna insurance. https://www.healthable.org/world-diabetes-day-2016-eyes-on-diabetes/

[vii] Popkin BM. Urbanization, lifestyle changes and the nutrition transition. World development. 1999 Nov 30;27(11):1905-16.

[viii] Yang W, Lu J, Weng J, Jia W, Ji L, Xiao J, Shan Z, Liu J, Tian H, Ji Q, Zhu D. Prevalence of diabetes among men and women in China. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010 Mar 25;362(12):1090-101.

[ix] DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL, Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review, Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 23 August 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971

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