Question:How can I prevent type 1 or type 2 diabetes?
Answer:There are usually two flavors of diabetes. Type 1 used to be called juvenile onset diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes. And it is caused by an attack by your own immune system -- (it's) called an autoimmune disease -- on the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. So what happens is that over time, usually during childhood, this autoimmune attack attacks your pancreas just like it would happen if it was a bacterium and it destroys these beta cells.
There is no way, currently, that we know of, to prevent type 1 diabetes. Children or young adults or even older people who get it, there is really little that we can do to either slow down or prevent the development of this disease.
Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult onset diabetes because it most often affects people beyond the age of 45 or 50, is the really the epidemic form of diabetes and it is associated with increasing weight, obesity, decreasing life style.
In addition, it more commonly occurs in people of racial minorities. So for example, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and American Indians are more likely to get this form of diabetes.
Since the risk factors that lead to this form of diabetes include increasing weight and decreasing activity levels, it shouldn't be surprising that there have been a number of studies that have been performed, including one called the Diabetes Prevention Program, that showed that you can prevent this disease from occurring if you lose weight and if you increase your activity level. In the Diabetes Prevention Program, the volunteers there lost about 7 percent, which was about for them about 15 pounds of weight and increased their activity level by walking about 30 minutes most evenings or most days. And by doing that -- losing the weight and increasing their activity level -- they were able to decrease their development of diabetes by almost 60 percent. So it can be very effectively prevented.
The other thing that's available is that there's a number of medications that have been studied to prevent diabetes. Currently these medications have not yet been formally approved by the FDA, but one of them, metformin, which is used usually to treat diabetes, can also decrease the development of diabetes. And this was demonstrated in the Diabetes Prevention Program.