7 Surprising Diabetes Risk Factors

Diabetes, Diabetes Type 2, Endocrine Disorders, Featured Article
on October 31, 2012
Seven surprising risk factors of diabetes.
Andrew Roberts

By now, we should all be able to recite the things that raise a person’s risk for Type 2 diabetes—increasing awareness, after all, is the point of November’s American Diabetes Month. It’s well-established that getting older, being overweight, not exercising and having high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) raise your odds of developing the serious-yet-preventable disease predicted to affect more than 53 million Americans by 2025. But new research is uncovering some surprising behaviors and physical conditions that may also boost your chances of developing Type 2, which in turn can cause heart and kidney disease. Add these factors to the list.

Eating white rice. In a review of four studies, Harvard researchers found an 11 percent jump in Type 2 risk for each serving (about one cup) of white rice consumed. While more research is needed to prove the connection, switching to whole grains like brown rice is a good move, anyway. Whole grains contain fiber and magnesium, which may protect you from diabetes. They also help keep your weight in check: “People who eat whole grains feel fuller on fewer calories,” says Dr. Vivian Fonseca of the American Diabetes Association.

Being big around the middle. In a British study, obese men with waist circumferences of 40 inches or larger were 22 times more likely to develop diabetes than normal-weight men whose waists were narrower than 37 inches. Waist measurements of 34 inches or larger boosted obese women’s risk by nearly 32 times compared with middles measuring less than 31 inches. “People who carry fat around the waist are more likely to have fat in the liver and pancreas, which interferes with insulin production,” Fonseca explains.

Sitting too much. In a study of 500 men and women, researchers discovered that women who sat the longest (up to 7 hours a day) fared the worst on tests measuring C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, as well as insulin resistance and obesity. Why the bigger toll on women? Women may snack more when they sit; and men may engage in more vigorous activity when they do get off their duffs. Walking just 30 minutes a day, five days a week and losing about five percent of your body weight, if you’re overweight, is your best defense.

Not sleeping enough. Too little sleep and an out-of-whack circadian rhythm (the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle) caused blood sugar to stay elevated longer, spiking to prediabetic levels in some sleep-deprived subjects, in research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In addition, metabolic rates dropped by eight percent, a change that could lead to nearly a 13-pound weight gain over the course of a year. The good news: Once people resumed a normal sleep-wake schedule, blood sugar levels and metabolic rate returned to baseline or near-baseline levels.

Working the night shift. Harvard researchers found that women who worked three or more nights per month—in addition to day and evening shifts—for three to nine years saw their diabetes risk jump by 20 percent. Shift workers who logged 10 to 19 years saw a 40 percent risk increase; those working nights for 20 or more years upped their risk by 58 percent. The study authors speculate that weight gain may be the culprit, and advise that women working the night shift be extra cautious about eating healthfully, exercising and establishing healthy sleep habits.

Running low on D. In a Tufts University study, people with the highest levels of vitamin D had nearly half the risk of developing metabolic syndrome—a cluster of symptoms that raises the risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease—compared to people with the lowest D levels. There’s no proof, though, that vitamin D can prevent diabetes. Still, the Institute of Medicine suggests taking at least 600 IUs of vitamin D daily (800 IUs if you’re over age 70) on top of whatever you get from sun exposure (no more than 10 to 15 minutes a day) and diet (D-fortified milk, salmon and swordfish are the best sources).

Having psoriasis. Danish researchers reported that Type 2 risk is nearly twice as high for people with severe psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease, than it is for those with milder cases. A possible explanation: Both Type 2 and psoriasis are associated with chronic inflammation. The take-home message: While more research is needed, psoriasis sufferers should work to lower their diabetes risk through lifestyle changes and get screened for insulin resistance.