The pervasiveness of weight gain that causes people to become overweight or obese is a major medical concern. More than one-third of adults in the United States were obese in 2011-2012, according to a February 2014 report in "JAMA." Being overweight or obese predisposes people to a host of medical complications, one of the most serious of which is type 2 diabetes. Among other things, substantial weight gain can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which your body doesn’t respond normally to the blood-sugar-lowering hormone insulin. Insulin resistance can increase your risk of developing prediabetes and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes (T2DM).
Weight gain occurs due to excess calorie consumption. Your body requires a certain number calories daily to fuel its many functions. When you exceed this amount, your body stores the extra intake as fat. While you might notice excess body fat in unwanted places, such as your face or hips, it's stored in many body sites. As reported in a December 2008 "Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America" article, when your body stores fat in muscle and the liver, it substantially increases the risk of insulin resistance. With this condition, body tissues respond sluggishly to insulin, leading to high blood sugar. It is important to note, however, that not everyone who consumes excess calories develops insulin resistance. But people who are overweight or obese are at increased risk.
The type of fat in the foods you consume is believed to be extremely important in influencing the likelihood of diabetes development. Fat itself isn’t bad, in moderation. But the amount and type of fat you routinely consume can put you at risk for weight gain and diabetes. A diet high in saturated fats -- primarily from animal-based foods -- increases the likelihood of developing insulin resistance. Substituting saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats -- primarily from plant oils, nuts and seeds -- improves insulin sensitivity, suggests an August 2004 report from "Clinical Nutrition." However, this effect is seen only if total dietary fat is not excessive. Because insulin resistance directly contributes to high blood sugar, the amount and types of fat you consume play a part in determining blood sugar levels.
Ongoing consumption of unhealthy foods can lead to both weight gain and the development of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a conglomeration of risk factors that increase your chances of developing T2DM as well as heart disease and stroke. These risk factors include: -- Abnormal blood fats, specifically, high triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol. -- High blood pressure. -- High fasting blood sugar. -- Central obesity, meaning a large waistline due to excess fat in the abdomen.
Unlike most disorders bearing the name "syndrome," metabolic syndrome is both preventable and reversible. The same is generally true for insulin resistance. Even if your current weight puts you at risk for or has led to the development of insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, there are things you can do to improve both your health and your chances of avoiding negative consequences.
Turning the Tide
Gaining weight can lead to the development of diabetes. Conversely, losing even a small amount of weight can have a positive impact on blood sugar control. Losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can improve your body’s ability to control blood sugar, according to a July 2011 study published in "Diabetes Care." This weight loss can come from diet, exercise, or a combination of both. However, adopting a lifestyle including both healthy eating and exercise is optimally beneficial to your overall well-being. By eating a diet low in saturated fat and engaging in exercise to build muscle and burn off excessive calories consumed and existing fat, you can interrupt the cycle of weight gain, insulin resistance and T2DM.
- JAMA: Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012
- Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America: Intracellular Lipid Accumulation in Liver and Muscle and the Insulin Resistance Syndrome
- Clinical Nutrition: Dietary Fat, Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Syndrome
- Clinical Biochemical Review: Insulin and Insulin Resistance
- Diabetes Care: Benefits of Modest Weight Loss in Improving Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes