People with type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight or obese, and while there is general agreement about a link between the two, the scientific understanding is still not yet clear. It seems that obesity, especially with fat accumulation in your abdomen, promotes insulin resistance which then causes your pancreas to try and secrete more insulin. If your pancreas can't keep up to the increased demand, then your cells can't process glucose (sugar), for which the insulin is necessary. When this happens, you have developed type 2 diabetes. The other way type 2 develops is when your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin regardless of resistance. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your pancreas simply doesn't produce any insulin at all.
So what happens in obese people and insulin resistance? It has been shown that a high fat diet causes abnormal glucose production in your liver. In healthier people, glucose production in the liver only occurs when your blood sugar levels get too low. This behaviour of your liver with obesity, increasing blood glucose levels, is an important step towards developing insulin resistance. This has to do with a process by which the endoplasmic reticulum in your cells, which process fats and proteins, become 'stressed'. The endoplasmic reticulum then send out signals to tell your body to ignore insulin until the fat processing has finished.
Other studies show that a diet high in sugar can be a precursor to developing diabetes as well, perhaps explaining why some people who are not overweight but maintain poor diet habits can develop insulin resistance.
Further scientific evidence points to fat cells producing a hormone known as resistin. This hormone supposedly prevents cells from using insulin properly, affecting your blood glucose levels, your appetite, and your fat storage.
The bottom line is that your pancreas secretes insulin as you eat, and your cells, using insulin, permit the transport of sugar (glucose) inside, to be converted into energy. Diabetes prevents your cells from using the insulin, causing your blood sugar levels to be higher than normal, and your cells to lack the necessary ingredients to produce energy, which of course is essential for basic life functions. How obesity is connected to helping create this situation may not be perfectly clear, but you can certainly be sure that exercise and a healthy diet will not only combat obesity, but will also help you manage diabetes.
Yoga is a great exercise, and is good for all levels of people – it's just a matter of finding the right teacher for you. Acupuncture can help to regulate your blood sugar and energy levels, and can even help you to lose weight.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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