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Diabetes Causes

Diabetes Risk Factors

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs because the body is unable to use blood sugar (glucose) properly. The exact cause of this malfunction is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors play a part. Risk factors for diabetes include obesity and high levels of cholesterol. Some specific causes are discussed below.


Lack of Insulin Production

This may result from type 1 diabetes. It occurs when insulin-producing cells are damaged or destroyed and stop producing insulin. Insulin is needed to move blood sugar into cells throughout the body. The resulting insulin deficiency leaves too much sugar in the blood and not enough in the cells for energy.

Insulin Resistance

This is specific to type 2 diabetes. It occurs when insulin is produced normally in the pancreas, but the body is still unable move glucose into the cells for fuel. At first, the pancreas will create more insulin to overcome the body’s resistance. But eventually the cells “wear out.” At that point the body slows insulin production, leaving too much glucose in the blood.


A small percentage of pregnant women may develop gestational diabetes. It’s thought that hormones developed in the placenta interfere with the body’s insulin response. This leads to insulin resistance and high levels of glucose in the blood.

Family History

Genetics plays a role in determining how likely you are to develop some type of diabetes. Researchers don’t fully understand the role of genetics in the development of diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, statistics show that if you have a parent or sibling with diabetes, your odds of developing it yourself increase.


According to the Mayo Clinic, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as you age. Your risk goes up after age 45 in particular. However, the incidence of type 2 diabetes is increasing dramatically among children, adolescents, and younger adults. Likely factors include reduced exercise, decreased muscle mass, and weight gain as you age. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed by the age of 30.


Excess body fat can cause insulin resistance. Fatty tissue may cause inflammation that can lead to insulin resistance. But as many overweight people never develop diabetes, more research is needed on the link between obesity and diabetes.

Poor Diet

According to the American Diabetes Association, poor nutrition can contribute to type 2 diabetes. A diet high in calories, fat, and cholesterol increases your body’s resistance to insulin.

Lack of Exercise

Exercise makes muscle tissue respond better to insulin. This is why regular aerobic exercise and resistance training can lower your diabetes risk. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that is safe for you.


Although research is not conclusive, some ethnic groups seem to have a higher rate of diabetes. This is true for:

  • African-Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Asians
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Hispanic Americans

Gestational Diabetes

Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. According to the CDC, women that deliver a baby that weighs more than 9 pounds are also at greater risk.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Sep 16, 2014on: May 23, 2017

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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