Diabetes is a disease of defective glucose metabolism and it is more complex than just eating or not eating ‘sugar’. Diabetes has both genetic and environmental components.
Genetic component – This relates to having been born with the tendencies to develop diabetes. This may be hereditary or result from genetic defects during development, predisposing such an individual to developing the disease at certain point in his or her lifetime.
Environmental factors serve as fertile ground for the disease to manifest. These factors include:
1. Sedentary lifestyle – Sitting in one place for significant part of the day, on a regular basis, reduces the utilisation of glucose by the body tissues. The excess glucose gets stored as complex carbohydrates and fat in the liver and subcutaneous tissue for later use; thus leading to increase in weight of the individual, if there is no opportunity to utilize the storage.
2. Obesity – Excess fat deposition in the body makes glucose utilization by body cells, with insulin, difficult. As a result of this, more insulin is required by obese individuals for effective utilization of glucose in the body when there is excess fatty tissue. With the excess insulin released per time, the insulin storage may soon be depleted, making subsequent glucose control difficult.
3. Refined sugar – This is the factor which many people easily focus on as the one and only causative factor for diabetes. Refined sugar refers to processed sugar in form of cube sugar, granulated sugar, sugar in soft drinks, glucose D etc. This is sugar which does not need to undergo the complex process of digestion before being released into the blood stream. Whereas taking excess refined sugar on a regular basis is a factor in diabetes, it is not a direct cause.
For someone who is predisposed to having diabetes (someone with genetic risk and other factors such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle etc), indulging in excess intake of refined sugar may hasten the onset of the disease. This is because, when refined sugar is eaten, it quickly increases the blood sugar beyond the level immediately required by the body.
This then forces the body to store the excess glucose. The storage is achieved by releasing large quantity of insulin into the blood stream, as this is necessary for the body cells to recognise and either utilize or store glucose. Thus, frequent intake of refined sugar may overstretch the ability of the body to continue to release insulin in such persons.
4. Junk food – These are food products with refined products like flour, sugar, magi with all sorts of seasoned flavours etc. These foods also contain large quantity of fats. They are numerous at different fast food points. A common denominator in all or majority of them is that they are lacking in dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and many other important nutritional components.
These foods release large quantity of sugar, fat and salt (sodium) into the blood circulation which the body finds difficult to cope with. To cope with the sugar content of these foods, the body needs to release large quantity of insulin. Thus, someone who is inherently predisposed to having diabetes is put at increased risk if he or she indulges in junk food on a regular basis.