Is Type 2 Diabetes Inherited?
A common question surrounding Type 2 Diabetes is whether it is inherited or not. Is diabetes inherited? If your parents are diabetic, are you doomed to be diabetic? If there is no family history of diabetes, are you guaranteed a diabetes-free life? After much research, our conclusion is this:
Type 2 Diabetes is 20% genetics, 80% environment, and 100% inherited. Let me explain.
Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes
The best way to determine the genetics of diabetes is through research with identical twins. Identical twins have identical genes, so they are a great resource for inherited traits. If one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other twin will have type 1 diabetes 50% of the time. If one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other twin will also have type 2 diabetes 75% of the time.
According to the American Diabetes Association, if a parent was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before the age of 50, you have a 1 in 7 chance of developing diabetes and a 1 in 13 chance if that parent was diagnosed after the age of 50. If both of your parents have type 2 diabetes, you have a 1 in 2 risk.
Environment of Type 2 Diabetes
Everyone’s environment varies greatly from person to person. However, there are similarities seen among type 2 diabetics.
The environment of a type 2 diabetic usually has three things in common:
- Poor eating habits- Diets high in carbohydrates (carbs) result in higher blood sugar levels. Higher blood sugar levels result in the pancreas getting pooped out from making all that insulin, which leads to insulin resistance. A healthy diet consists of a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. When someone is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, carbs must be practically eliminated from the diet.
- A sedentary lifestyle- In this day and age, it’s far too easy to be inactive. We have a car to get us to work, a desk to sit at all day, a computer to keep in touch with friends, and restaurants to order food at. We all know intellectually that exercise is important, but since exercise is inconvenient, it gets pushed aside. And then when exercise and healthy eating is neglected over time, it becomes more difficult and uncomfortable to exercise, leading us into a downward spiral towards Type 2 Diabetes.
- Stress- When we come into contact with some sort of stressor, our bodies activates the “fight-or-flight” response. This “fight-or-flight” response allows us to have enough energy to… obviously… defend ourselves or run away. The main stress hormone is called cortisol, which raises blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Stress can be a life-saving response if you’re being chased by a bear. But if we are at a constant state of stress, whether it be a job or family situation, our cortisol levels are always high, putting us at risk for type 2 diabetes.
What does this mean?
The twins in the above example were raised by the same parents, in the same home, at the same time. So it’s safe to say that twins have the same environment, the same eating habits, and the same exercise habits.
Children usually pick up the habits of their parents, and continue these same eating and exercise habits when they reach adulthood. Obviously this doesn’t take all factors into account, but you get the idea. Most adults recreate the same type of environment they had as a child.
Growing up in a sedentary household, will likely lead YOU to be sedentary in adulthood.
If diabetes were 100% based on genetics, you could conclude that if one twin developed type 2 diabetes, the other twin would soon follow. If diabetes were 100% based on environment, you could draw the same conclusion. But we have to take into account the difference in the twin studies. It would be interesting to see a study about identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in different environments and their rate of type 2 diabetes. As far as we know, such a study does not exist.
The 80/20 Rule
The Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 Rule) was “discovered” by Vilfredo Pareto in 1906, and it is amazing how many things follow this rule! Pareto realized that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. In 1992, the UN reported that 80% of the world’s wealth was controlled by 20% of the world’s population.
In business, 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, and 80% of company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers. In the Dunedin Study, 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals. In health care in the US, 20% of patients use 80% of healthcare resources. The list goes on, and it’s quite staggering how many times this 80/20 Rule rings true.
You’ll see us refer to the 80/20 Rule a lot at shaneandjoanna.com, so you’ll get pretty familiar with this concept pretty quickly. We love this rule because it provides a lot of hope and encouragement when it comes to controlling and eventually defeating type 2 diabetes.
So Type 2 Diabetes follows the 80/20 rule: 80% environment, and 20% genetics. We say it’s 100% inherited because adults usually perpetuate the same lifestyle they had growing up.
So am I doomed?
Of course not! The good news about the 80/20 rule is that you have control over your environment! You may have to work harder than someone whose genetics component has no predisposition to diabetes, but you can overpower your 20% genetic component with a rock solid 80% environment. Set yourself up for success.
If your environment is a breeding ground for poor eating habits and a lack of exercise, it’s going to take some effort to give your environment a make-over, but it has been done, it CAN be done, and I know you know that it MUST be done.
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