Health & Fitness

Yes, you can overcome a genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes

Mehmet Oz, M.D., and Michael Roizen, M.D.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., and Michael Roizen, M.D.

If your parents both have red hair, it’s inevitable that you’ll have red hair too. But if your folks developed Type 2 diabetes, does that mean you can’t escape developing Type 2? Absolutely not.

Type 2 diabetes can be avoided or even reversed. If you have a genetic predisposition for Type 2 (that’s around 70 percent of people in North America; maybe 80 percent in the world) and there’s a history of diabetes on both sides of your family, you’re not doomed to develop it.

You can turn off genes that trigger Type 2 diabetes by making smart lifestyle choices. For instance, increasing physical activity decreases insulin resistance; dodging processed carbs lowers blood sugar; and managing chronic stress responses helps reduce bodywide inflammation. So don’t despair if you have a family history; instead, see it as a red-flag warning that the time to start flipping off those genes is now!

Turning Off Your Type 2 Disposition

Scientists in Great Britain believe that they’ve found a gene, called TNFR5, which when overexpressed seems to damage insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. And that gene becomes overexpressed when it’s exposed to excess glucose and bad fatty acids. But the researchers found that if you prevent that overexpression, beta cells thrive.

Your best steps? You can help inhibit the expression of that gene by not exposing it to excess blood glucose levels (ditch those processed carbs and added sugars and syrups) and lousy fatty acids that come from saturated fats in meats and whole dairy.

Your Reward

You’ll be surprised at how quickly you are rewarded for your efforts to upgrade your lifestyle. Genes that predispose you to Type 2 diabetes are particularly happy to turn off. Seems they sense when you’re trying to upgrade your lifestyle habits and they turn off even before you’ve lost much weight. That may be why some folks who get bariatric surgery see blood sugar levels return to normal even before they leave the hospital. The genes can tell you’re on your way to better health. And it’s worth noting that other studies have shown that six years following bariatric surgery, 62 percent of the people who had Type 2 showed no signs of diabetes.

Other Cases

If you’ve developed Type 2 diabetes, don’t give up. At Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, a program of managed intensive treatment sets a goal (for people who present at the clinic) of totally reversing Type 2 diabetes and living full time with an A1C of 5 to 5.8 percent. Sixty percent of folks achieve that.

Also, sometimes many family members have Type 2 diabetes but genetics is not the cause — or the only cause. Shared environmental risk factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutritional habits, inadequate stress management, depression, etc., can foster the condition. But no matter who you are or what your family history is, if you think you can’t avoid diabetes, think again. Talk to your doctor and make a plan. Here’s your starter kit:

1. Avoid the five food felons like the plague: all added sugars and sugar syrups (like high fructose corn syrup), all trans and most saturated fats, and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole.

2. Plan on walking 10,000 steps a day or the equivalent (google “step counter conversions Vermont” for a chart that lets you figure out equivalents).

3. Adopt a stress-management program (mindful meditation), and practice it twice a day.

4. If you already have diabetes or prediabetes, there are armies of folks out there to help you. Diabetes educators are a tremendous resource; they can help you create a personalized exercise and diet program. And intensive programs, similar to Dr. Mike’s, are in hospitals and even Y’s across the country. Many are reimbursed by health insurers.

So remember, express your desire to dodge Type 2 diabetes, and you can keep those genes from expressing theirs.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.

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