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9 Things You Never Knew About Type 2 Diabetes

As obesity explodes around the world, type 2 diabetes is following close behind. Here's what you need to know about this common chronic illness, including some surprising risk factors and unusual ways to protect yourself.

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A big baby can cause more than a difficult labor

According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, giving birth to a baby nine pounds or larger puts you at a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes tend to put on more weight during pregnancy and give birth to larger babies, but a baby of above average weight is a risk factor with or without gestational diabetes. (These are the symptoms of gestational diabetes to watch out for.)

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Most cases of type 2 diabetes can be reversed

A little-known fact about this kind of diabetes is that most cases are treatable. “The biggest misconception is that type 2 diabetes should simply be managed,” says Joel Kahn, MD, founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity and owner of GreenSpace Cafe. “But my goal with these patients is to reverse and eliminate their diabetic state through whole food, plant-based, low-fat diets, exercise, and supplements leading to weight control.” He adds that this approach really works for many of his patients and that “it’s better to be an ex-type 2 diabetic than a well-managed one.” These are the superfoods that are great for diabetics.

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Genetics play a (supporting) role

Just as with several other diseases and conditions, genetics can contribute to type 2 diabetes risk. Even if a close family member has type 2 diabetes, you may not suffer the same fate. Type 2 diabetes has a greater connection to diet and lifestyle than family history, although having a sibling or parent with the disease does increase your chances (as does being a guy– so make sure you know the signs and symptoms of diabetes every man should know). These health breakthroughs can help stop type 2 diabetes before it starts.

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Sugar isn’t off limits

Type 1 diabetes is directly related to how the body produces insulin and absorbs glucose, so someone with type 1 diabetes has to closely watch their sugar intake. By contrast, people with type 2 diabetes would want to limit sugar intake as part of an overall healthy diet and to help with weight loss and weight management. (Here’s more on the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.) “Certainly restricting the huge amount of added sugars in sodas and sweets, along with added fats in processed foods, is a win-win for prevention,” says Dr. Kahn. And although sugar isn’t completely off the table, smart food choices and portion control both play major parts in managing or reversing type 2 diabetes. These are some of the worst foods to eat if you have diabetes.

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Type 2 diabetes raises the risk of other diseases and conditions

Obesity and type 2 diabetes often go hand in hand, but the development of type 2 diabetes also raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Kahn, which is the number one killer in the Western world. Heart attack and stroke risk increases by two- to four-fold because “elevated blood sugar coats (and damages) arteries and nerves, which is associated with abnormalities of blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation,” Dr. Kahn says. And here are some diabetes symptoms you may be ignoring, but shouldn’t.

A type 2 diabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean a crash diet

You might be surprised to learn that you can still enjoy most of the foods you love—within reason—if you have type 2 diabetes. “My patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus are surprised that they can eat large quantities of whole fruit, even mangoes and papayas, if they restrict added oils and dietary fats,” says Dr. Kahn. “By eliminating the added fats, they regain insulin sensitivity and enjoy colorful and delicious healthy whole foods again.”

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Blame it on hormones

Starting with puberty, it seems that every phase of a woman’s life is dominated by hormones—including whether or not you go on to develop type 2 diabetes. According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because this condition is connected with inflammation and excess insulin. Here’s a list of recommended shoes for women with diabetes.

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A clean mouth can mean a clean bill of health

You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by keeping up with your oral care. Any form of inflammation, even gingivitis, can trigger an inflammatory reaction in other parts of the body, which is why the American Diabetes Association recommends daily brushing and flossing to combat plaque buildup and more serious dental and health issues. Your dentist may catch these more serious diseases first.

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Managing diabetes is not just about diet and exercise

Most of the diabetes information these days touts diet and exercise as the ticket to managing the illness. While both of these are critical, they’re just two pieces of the puzzle of a healthy lifestyle. According to Dr. Kahn, there is plenty of research to back adopting a Mediterranean or plant-based diet along with exercising regularly, but he would add that getting adequate sleep and managing stress are just as important.