All in the Family: Is Diabetes Genetic?

For better or for worse, there are many qualities you’ll continue to receive from your parents throughout your lifetime. Studies have found that your driving abilities, your pain tolerance and even your love of coffee can all be based on your genetics.

Genetics can even play a role in determining the likelihood that you’ll develop certain diseases, including diabetes.

Is Diabetes Genetic?

“There’s a very strong family component to type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Alberto O. Chavez, an endocrinologist at the University Health Texas Diabetes Institute in San Antonio. “If you have one parent who has type 2 diabetes, your risk of becoming diabetic in your lifetime goes up by 30-40%. If both of your parents have type 2 diabetes, your risk is higher than 50% of becoming diabetic at some point in your life. Genetics play a big role.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, types 1 and 2 diabetes can run in a family, but what eventually triggers the disease to become active in a person’s body is an environmental factor, such as:

  • Activity level
  • Dietary patterns
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol

Take Control of Diabetes

Because it’s generational, diabetes rarely affects just one person. The strong hereditary component means everyone in the family can benefit from interventions. Here are five things you can do to prevent diabetes:

  1. Know your risk. This can help you make changes early on to prevent the onset of diabetes. Find out your risk for type 2 diabetes by answering a few questions in this health assessment. You can also talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you have diabetes.
  2. Read labels. You may find that a food you considered to be healthy is actually loaded with carbs, sugar, sodium, or unhealthy additives. By paying attention to what’s in your food, you’ll be able to make sure your intake is rich in nutrients and not too heavy in unhealthy ingredients.
  3. Keep a food diary. Food tracking is helpful for weight loss, but it’s also a great way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Apps like MyFitnessPal and MyNetDiary make it easy to track calories on the go.
  4. Get active. While any form of activity is beneficial for weight loss and diabetes prevention, people looking to burn sugar can benefit from additional resistance training. Because the muscles are responsible for burning sugar, lifting weights and doing resistance training — with proper supervision — can go a long way.
  5. Eat a balanced diet. It’s a myth that diabetic patients can no longer eat the foods they love. They can eat, with exceptions, almost all kinds of food, but the key is moderation. This means following portion sizes and balancing nutrient intake — particularly carbohydrates, fats, and proteins — based on the recommended daily requirements for age, weight, and height. It also helps to follow a diabetes diet.

Prevent Diabetes by Starting Early

Early detection is the key to prevention. It is recommended that everyone get tested by the time they reach the age of 45. However, people as young as 20 should get their sugar levels tested if they have a strong family history of type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

“The most important things are to recognize the signs, know your family history and find out early,” says Dr. Chavez. “Do not wait. If you realize you have some of the risk factors, take a proactive approach and make some lifestyle changes. Once you hit the diabetes number, the diagnosis stays with you forever, and then the focus is on treatment and preventing complications. Until then, there’s a lot you can do to prevent diabetes.

Diabetes Care at Texas Diabetes Institute

Through a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, health promotion, patient education, professional training and research, the Texas Diabetes Institute represents America’s largest and most comprehensive center completely dedicated to the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

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