What causes diabetes?

Coliseum Medical Centers
Different types of diabetes have different causes, but they all have the same effect -- high levels of sugar circulating in the blood system. Watch as Carole Radney, RN, of Coliseum Medical Centers, explains the causes of diabetes.
Sugar or other foods can’t cause diabetes. You also can’t catch diabetes from someone else, like you catch a cold. The cause of diabetes rests with a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. However, being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, it is wise to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise to reduce your risk. 
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Your diet and lifestyle play critical roles in determining whether you become obese or develop diabetes. It's true that scientists have discovered genes that appear to make people more vulnerable to obesity, diabetes and other serious medical conditions. Yet there's little doubt that what you eat, your level of physical activity and other factors make a big difference. If you're struggling with your weight, talk to your physician.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson
Internal Medicine
Although there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes, which usually occurs before or during puberty, type 2 diabetes is most likely the result of lifestyle choices. The latter accounts for 90 to 95% of diabetes cases and results from a combination of abnormalities. First, cells of the body become less responsive to insulin, which in turn causes the body to secrete more insulin to maintain normal metabolism. The pancreas usually rallies to compensate for the resistance by pumping out more insulin. For most people with insulin resistance, blood sugar levels stay within a normal range. But for some, the insulin-producing cells eventually fail to keep up with the increased demand. Blood sugar levels rise, resulting in diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the levels of sugar (glucose) in your blood are too high. The high blood sugar levels are due to a problem with insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas. Insulin helps move glucose from your blood into your body cells to be used for energy. In type 1 diabetes (which affects 5% to 10% of people with diabetes), the pancreas does not produce insulin. In this form of diabetes, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas may produce insulin, but the body can't use the insulin normally. In either case, sugar builds up in the blood and is ultimately excreted in the urine, rather than fueling the body. About 3% to 8% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancies. It usually goes away after the birth. Gestational diabetes is thought to be caused by the hormones of pregnancy or too little insulin.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, current theory suggests that an autoimmune process leads to destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Antibodies to beta cells are present in 75 percent of all type 1 diabetics, compared to 0.5 to 2 percent of non-diabetics. The antibodies to the beta cells appear to develop in response to cell destruction related to other mechanisms, including chemical, free-radical, and viral, and food allergy.

In contrast, obesity is a major contributing factor to the development of insulin resistance in approximately 90 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes. In most cases, achieving ideal body weight is associated with restoration of normal blood sugar levels in these patients.

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

More About this Book

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the most comprehensive and practical guide available to the nutritional benefits and medicinal properties of virtually everything...
William Lee Dubois
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Bad luck.

Oh. And genes.

And lifestyle.

And environment.

Bottom line: there isn’t one simple cause of diabetes. Getting diabetes, like some really bad horoscope, requires all the stars to line up just right. First and foremost your body needs to be designed for it. This is called genetic disposition. So ya gotta be built for it.

That said, not everyone who is pre-disposed to diabetes will get it, because diabetes needs a trigger.

The two most common are age and weight. The more you weigh and/or the older you get, the greater your likelihood of developing diabetes. So if diabetes runs in your family the best thing you can do to “dodge the bullet” is to keep yourself at a healthy weight. Or if you’re not at a healthy weight, get yourself there.

But it you fail and you do develop diabetes, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you control it, which really isn’t that hard to do, you can live a long and happy life with diabetes.


Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.