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What Causes Diabetes?

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If you want to know what causes diabetes, the root trigger of the disease depends on whether you have type 1, type 2 or the version brought on by pregnancy, also referred to as gestational diabetes. All three types occur due to blood glucose levels in the body rising at a higher rate than normal. Certain risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing the illness. Sometimes the condition itself creates oral health problems; these vary somewhat depending on the type of diabetes you have.

How the Body Processes Glucose

The Mayo Clinic lays a foundation for understanding the causes of diabetes with a description of how the body processes blood sugar (glucose). Your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin — a substance that enables glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter the cells. This system provides energy for cells and keeps your blood sugar at a healthy level. When you don't have enough insulin or when your cells don't respond to it as they should, you get too much sugar in your blood — a disease called diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is when your immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, you have very little insulin or no insulin at all. Glucose therefore builds up in the bloodstream and can't access the cells to provide energy.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is usually referred to as insulin resistance; the pancreas will try to make enough insulin, but over time it won't be able to continue to do this to keep the blood glucose levels in the normal range. As a result, glucose can't enter the cells where it is needed for energy, and instead accumulates in the bloodstream.

Pregnancy-Related Diabetes

Gestational diabetes usually occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy and affects 18 percent of pregnancies. Some of the hormones your body produces during pregnancy will block the action of insulin as reported by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). As your unborn child grows, you produce even more of these hormones. This is a problem that makes it harder for insulin to get the glucose out of the blood and into the cells. In most cases, the pancreas tries to deal with the problem by putting out more insulin, but sometimes it struggles to overcome the unresponsiveness. This situation results in too much glucose in the blood and too little inside the cells.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation, include a family history of the illness, environmental factors and viruses. In type 2 diabetes, family history may play a role, but physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and high blood pressure, among other factors, may also make a person more likely to develop this disease. Risk factors for diabetes during pregnancy include a family history of the condition along with being over the age of 25, overweight and of non-Caucasian ethnicity.

Oral Care for Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you're at greater risk of developing cavities and gum disease. Aside from managing your blood sugar, the ADA recommends brushing twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush. The association also advises flossing at least once a day and visiting the dentist regularly.

So, what causes diabetes? The short answer is a deficit of insulin or not being sufficiently responsive to this hormone to begin with. The long answer involves the presence of various risk factors. While some factors are beyond your control, such as family history, you can control other factors that make you more vulnerable to developing the illness. Reduce your risk by engaging in lifestyle best practices, such as weight control, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

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