Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem in this country – fueled by a poor diet, lack of exercise, and the ever expanding rate of obesity. For obvious reasons, most people would like to prevent this disease and its many complications. Since blood sugars are high in people with diabetes, it’s natural to assume that sugar is the “bad guy”. Does eating too much sugar cause diabetes?
Can Eating Sugar Cause Diabetes: The Two Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, and each has a different cause. In type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. Since insulin escorts glucose into cells, the resulting lack of insulin causes glucose levels to rise in the bloodstream.
In contrast, people with type 2 diabetes have enough insulin, but their cells don’t respond appropriately to it, causing them to become insulin resistant. Either way, diabetics have too much glucose in their bloodstreams – and not enough inside their cells.
What Causes Diabetes?
No one knows exactly what causes diabetes, and the etiology varies with the type. Most experts believe that type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas. What triggers this destruction is unknown, although some experts have proposed that a virus plays a role.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have a strong genetic component, which means they’re more common in certain families. Lifestyle factors are also a factor in type 2 diabetes – with obesity being one of the biggest risk factors.
Does Too Much Sugar Cause Diabetes?
Dietary sugar and carbohydrates play a role in type 2 diabetes, but indirectly. Eating too much sugar increases the risk of obesity, which is one of the biggest risk factors for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. In this sense, eating too much sugar does boost the risk of type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise is just as important. It’s not so much what you eat that increases the risk of diabetes, but the resulting obesity that makes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes more likely.
The Bottom Line?
Eating too much sugar indirectly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, because it causes weight gain. To lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, eat a nutritionally sound diet with an appropriate number of calories for your size and activity level – and don’t forget to exercise.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.