Ask the Doctors: Eating better, moving more help reduce Type 2 diabetes risk

Lifestyle changes — reaching a healthy weight and adopting a healthful and balanced diet — are important moves toward reducing your risk of developing the disease.

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Adding some form of regular daily exercise — such as walking — to your lifestyle, helps the body better manage blood glucose levels.

Adding some form of regular daily exercise — such as walking — to your lifestyle, helps the body better manage blood glucose levels.

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Dear Doctors: Does Type 2 diabetes run in the family? My dad and sister both have it. I’m worried I’m next. We are a meat-and-potatoes family, and I’ve got a sweet tooth. I want to lose weight and eat healthier. Would a more plant-based diet help? What else can I do?

Dear Reader: Yes, Type 2 diabetes can run in families.

It’s a disease in which the body loses the ability to keep levels of blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, within a healthy range.

Too much glucose in the blood for extended periods leads to a range of serious health problems. Untreated, Type 2 diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys and nerves, cause vision problems and increase the risk of stroke.

The reason it can run in families is partly due to genetic makeup, which can give you a predisposition to the disease. Researchers have linked several genetic mutations to Type 2 diabetes.

Environmental factors also play an important role. Obesity, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, low or high birth weight and stress all can contribute to developing the disease. But they don’t affect all people the same way. When these risk factors are present, people with a family history of Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop the disease than those with no familial link.

The lifestyle changes that you are considering — reaching a healthy weight and adopting a healthful and balanced diet — would be important moves toward reducing your risk.

Adding regular daily exercise, which helps the body to manage blood glucose levels, would also improve your chances of avoiding the disease. And a strong body of research shows that a plant-forward diet is associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

A recent study at Harvard University examined a vast body of data from 10,000 people who participated in a trio of decadeslong health surveys. The participants were sorted into groups based on diet, and blood plasma samples and long-term health outcomes were analyzed. The researchers found a strong correlation between a healthful diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and legumes and a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Study participants with less-healthful diets — high in refined grains, sugary beverages, fruit juices, potatoes and sweets and desserts — had a measurably higher incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

They also were more likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and use medications to control those conditions.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.

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