Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why Type 2 Diabetes Is Becoming More Common in Asia and Latin America

Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease of older, wealthier adults in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world, but now it is becoming more common in Asia. Part of the explanation for the reach of the world-wide explosion of the epidemic of type 2 diabetes is that fast food, cars, television, and video games are finally becoming available in developing nations, but another part of the explanation is cautionary for persons of Asian descent who have immigrated to other parts of the world.

It's a generally accepted principle that when weight goes up, the risk of becoming diabetic goes up with it. The underlying condition is insulin resistance. Triggered by an illness, or exposure to environmental toxins, cells in the liver and muscles protect themselves from free radicals by shutting down receptor sites that receive sugar out of the bloodstream.

When sugar stays in circulation, the pancreas churns out more insulin to bring blood sugar levels down, and cells protect themselves from the extra free radicals of oxygen that burning sugar makes by becoming even more resistant to this sugar-moving hormone. Insulin continues to be available to store fat, however, so people gain weight. The cellular injury that causes insulin resistance isn't caused by eating too much, that actually comes later.

This process occurs in human beings all over the world, but it blossoms into full-blown diabetes faster in people of Asian or Latin American descent. Even when persons with genetics common in Asia and Latin America are not yet overweight, they already can have high blood sugar levels. Whether it's an excess of environmental pollutants, an unusual kind of genetics that causes insulin resistance, or both, people in these parts of the world need to be especially vigilant about the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Many Asians and Latin Americans have an unusual kind of genetics that favors the deposit of belly fat, the placement of body fat that is most likely to cause high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Even when they are thin elsewhere on the body, the accumulation of adipose tissue around the waist causes various kinds of disease problems that were once far more common in the industrialized world.

If you are a person of Asian or Latin American heritage, try to get a screening for diabetes whenever you can. Early detection may help you avoid the lifetime of problems that uncontrolled blood sugar levels can bring.

Selected Reference:

Ramachandran A, Snehalatha C. Rising burden of obesity in Asia. J Obes. 2010;2010. pii: 868573. Epub 2010 Aug 30.

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