Diabetes Runs in My Family. Does that Mean I’ll Get it?
Is Type 2 Diabetes Hereditary?
My mom has Type 2 diabetes, and it also runs in my dad’s side of the family. Does that mean I’m doomed?
This is a common question and relevant concern from patients. When you look at the statistics, over a 25-year period (1983 to 2008), the number of people in the world with diabetes increased from 35 million to 240 million. This number only reflects the amount of people who have actually been diagnosed with diabetes. This number is a gross underestimate, because it does not take into account the number of undiagnosed cases of diabetes.
Even so, the reality is that the magnitude of increased diagnosed cases of diabetes could not happen with a purely genetic or inherited disorder in such a short time. The genetic code of the human population changes only 0.2% every 20,000 years. In other words, genes do not become altered from generation to generation.
So if genetic alteration isn’t the reason, then why the dramatic increase in diabetes? Well, our environment affects our genes. The genetic code itself may not change, but the world around us highly influences the way those genes are expressed. Our environment has changed more in the last 100 years than in all of previous human history.
Diabetes is almost entirely induced by environmental and lifestyle factors. Predisposing genes certainly contribute, but those genes get turned on (or “expressed”) only under conditions of poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins. What this means is, even if your grandparents and both of your parents have diabetes, if you do not live the lifestyle that triggers the diabetes gene to be ‘turned on’, you will never develop diabetes.
The factors that have the greatest influence on driving obesity and diabetes epidemic is: How we eat, how much we exercise, how we manage stress, our exposure to environmental and food-based toxins, and the “obesogenic environment” (environment that promotes gaining weight and contributes to obesity). The collection of environmental, dietary, and lifestyle exposures we each experience has been called the “exposome.” (2)
In the end, the exposome (environmental, dietary and lifestyle exposures), which affects our genetic expression, may be much more important in determining health or disease than our actual genome (complete set of genes). In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) has reported that 90% of our disease risks are due to differences in environment, not genes. (3)
Exposomes or external environmental sources include:
Drugs / medications
Physical or psychological stressors
Internal processes include:
Free radical production
Oxidative stress (body’s ability to detoxify chemicals)
Dysbiosis (imbalance of bad to good biotic gut flora)
It’s important to understand that your genetic code doesn’t change. What does change is which parts of this code are expressed (turned on). What research has uncovered is that our environment, diet, toxins, microbes, allergens, stresses, social connections, thoughts, and beliefs—control which genes are turned on or off.
Your DNA can be tagged by an environmental factor. Then, those alterations in DNA (genetic expression) can be passed down through generations. This is called “epigenetics.”
For instance, If your grandmother ate too much sugar, or smoked, or was exposed to mercury from too much sushi, she may have “turned on” the genes that lead to diabesity (obesity + diabetes). In turn, this would then be passed down from generation to generation. However, this does not necessarily mean that you will develop the same illnesses she did. This may leave you with a genetic predisposition to diabetes or obesity, but you are not predestined. If you do not expose yourself to the same environmental factors as your grandmother (in this example), your genes for obesity and diabetes will never be ‘turned on’.
Every moment, you have the power to transform your gene expression and reverse disease by changing the messages and instructions you send to your DNA. You can “turn off” the genes your grandmother “turned on” generations ago.
What the Pima Indians Tell Us About Genetics and Diabetes
For those who remain unconvinced and believe that diabetes is genetic, let me tell you the story of the Pima Indians of Arizona.
After living for centuries in a harsh desert environment, in the early 1900s they were plunged into a Western culture and food environment. Their traditional diet was plant-based (whole grains, squash, melons, legumes, beans, and chiles) supplemented by gathered foods, including mesquite, acorns, cacti, chia, herbs, and fish.
Although their diet was high in carbohydrates, they were low-glycemic carbs, meaning they converted into sugar in their bodies relatively slowly and did not lead to high blood sugar levels.
Within one generation, the Pimas switched to a diet rich in sugar, sodas, white flour, trans fats, and processed foods. This is a diet I call the “white menace”— white sugar, white flour, and white fat (shortening).
They went from being thin and fit with no obesity, diabetes, or heart disease to being the second most obese population in the world.
Today, 80 percent of Arizona Pimas are diagnosed with diabetes by the time they are 30, and they are lucky to live to age 46. Pima children as young as three or four are getting adult-onset diabetes and need cardiac bypass surgery by the time they are 20.
The diabesity epidemic in the Pimas is not due to a recent genetic mutation. The shift in their diet sent their ancient, desert-dwelling genes a different set of instructions.
Food is not just calories. It is information, and the typical American high-glycemic-load diet turned on the Pimas’ diabesity genes. They didn’t have much choice about this. You do.
Obesity takes nine years off the life of the average person (4), and obesity in adolescents creates the same risk of premature death as heavy smoking. (5)
Diabetes is not a genetic disorder in the strictest sense. While it’s true that the genes you inherited from your parents or grandparents may put you at greater risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must get diabetes.
The condition is a direct outcome of dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors turning on all the wrong genes. The good news is…You can turn these genes off.
I Already Have Diabetes. Can I Reverse It?
Most of us are taught diabetes is not reversible and that we are destined to suffer progressive decline in function, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, amputation, strokes, and dementia.
Clear scientific evidence shows diabetes is reversible, especially if it is caught in the early stages and treated aggressively through lifestyle intervention and nutritional support, and occasionally with medications. (6)
Even most later stage diabetes can be reversed with very intensive lifestyle changes, medications, and supplements.
A groundbreaking study (7) showed unequivocally that even people with advanced Type 2 diabetes can recover, even when the pancreas has pooped out and insulin-producing (beta) cells are damaged. Diabetes can be reversed in just one week through dramatic changes in diet–specifically, a very low-glycemic, low-calorie, plant-based diet.
When patients incorporated these modifications, their blood sugar plummeted, triglyceride levels fell, and the pancreas recovered (measured by sophisticated MRI techniques).
After just one week, they were taken off their medication, proving that diabetes is not a progressive, incurable condition. Diet became more powerful than medication.
Yes, it may take a lot of work to reverse diabetes, but your body can heal given the right conditions.
1 . McCarthy MI. Genomics, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. N Engl J Med. 2010 Dec 9;363( 24): 2339– 50. Review.
2 . Rappaport SM. Implications of the exposome for exposure science. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2011 Jan; 21( 1): 5–9.
3 .Lichtenstein P, et al. Environmental and heritable factors in the causation of cancer— analyses of cohorts of twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. N Engl J Med. 2000 Jul 13;343( 2): 78– 85.
4 .Olshansky SJ, et al. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N Engl J Med . 2005 Mar 17;352( 11): 1138– 45.
5. Bibbins-Domingo K, et al. Adolescent overweight and future adult coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med . 2007 Dec 6;357( 23): 2371– 79.
6. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, Knowler WC, et al. 10-year follow-up of diabetes incidence and weight loss in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet. 2009 Nov 14;374( 9702): 1677– 86.
7. Lim EL, et al. Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol. Diabetologia. 2011 Oct; 54( 10): 2506– 14.
8. Donga E, et al. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J ClinEndocrinolMetab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2009-2430. Epub 2010 Apr 6.
9. Funk KL, Stevens VJ, et al. Associations of internet website use with weight change in a long-term weight loss maintenance program. J Med Internet Res. 2010 Jul 27;12(3):e29.
10. Kevin O. Hwang, et al. Thomas Social support in an Internet weight loss community. Int J Med Inform.2010 January; 79(1): 5–
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IS DIABETES HEREDITARY? RESEARCH SAYS…NO.
Just because your family members developed diabetes does not mean you have to follow in their footsteps. When looking at your genetic predisposition…fortunately it’s only 50% of the equation. Research has repeatedly shown that Type 2 Diabetes is completely caused by lifestyle and environmental factors. So if diabetes does run in your family, that simply means that you have a bullet in the chamber of your gun. However, if you don’t pull the trigger, your gun will never go off. Remember, your genetics may load the gun…but it’s your lifestyle that pulls the trigger. Here’s how you can avoid the trigger being pulled.
Take Control of Your Situation with these 7 Strategies
Even if you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes or lived with it for years, your condition is reversible. Despite what your doctor tells you or what you might read, there is hope. I strongly encourage you to read The Blood Sugar Solution to incorporate the comprehensive dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle plan to reverse diabetes.
At the same time, there are a number of simple strategies you can implement right now to prevent or reverse diabetes.
Whether diabetes runs in your family or you’ve had this condition for years, the power to normalize blood sugar and lower insulin lies within your control, beginning with these seven strategies
Ask your doctor for the right tests. Most doctors focus on fasting blood sugar. This is actually a poor indicator of diabetes. The best test to tease out the condition is an insulin response test where insulin levels are measured first in a fasting state, and then again at one and two hour intervals after consuming a glucose drink. Don’t ask for, demand this test from your doctor.
Ditch sugar. Despite the media hype and the seeming confusion among doctors, the basics of nutrition are extremely simple. Eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates. Include whole real foods like lean protein (chicken or fish), veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.
Supplement smartly. Supplements are an essential part of treating diabetes. A good multivitamin, vitamin D, fish oil, and special blood sugar balancing nutrients like alpha lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, biotin, cinnamon, green tea catechins, and glucomannan should also be included.
Chill out. Stress is a major unrecognized contributor to insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances. Push your pause button every day with deep breathing, visualization, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.
Move more. Aside from changing your diet, exercise is probably the single best medication for diabesity. Walk at least 30 minutes every day. For some, 30-60 minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise 4-6 times a week may be necessary.
Address your environment. Environmental toxins also contribute to diabesity. Filter your water, look for green cleaning products, and avoid plastics when you can.
Get enough sleep. Studies show even one partial night of poor sleep can contribute to insulin resistance, paving the way for diabesity.
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