• Question: Regarding type 2 diabetes, what causes beat cells to degenerate in the first place and how could people prevent this from happening?

    Asked by KateA-T to Eva on 7 Jul 2020.
    • Photo: Eva Kane

      Eva Kane answered on 7 Jul 2020:


      Great question! In a healthy person, insulin produced by the pancreatic beta-cells in response to sugar targets other organs such as the muscles and liver, and prompts them to take up and use that sugar for energy, or to store it for later. In a person with type 2 diabetes, those other organs become ‘insulin resistant’, so they need more and more insulin in order to produce the same response. Your beta-cells adapt to this at first by producing lots more insulin to keep the blood sugar at the right level. This stage is called ‘pre-diabetes’.

      However, if they keep having to do this they become exhausted because they are producing much more insulin than they are supposed to. As a result, some beta-cells will die and some will lose functionality and stop producing insulin. At this point, the person has type 2 diabetes and will start to see increased blood sugar that they cannot control. This can cause lots of other symptoms, as the organs are unable to get the energy that they need.

      There are lots of different small things that add up to a person getting type 2 diabetes, rather than one big thing. Two people with type 2 diabetes might have quite different symptoms from one another, and their disease might be caused by a different combination of factors. For some people, insulin resistance is caused by eating too much sugary food, because the organs get used to responding to lots and lots of insulin (remember, in a healthy person higher sugar intake = higher insulin levels). But some people can eat lots of sugary food and never get type 2 diabetes – and we don’t really know why! Likewise, some people get type 2 diabetes without having a really high sugar intake. Lots of scientists across the world are trying to find out why this is, and it probably has a lot to do with your unique genetic makeup.

      Regardless, eating a healthy diet and doing some exercise that you enjoy is always good for you – not just for reducing your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, but also for your mental health and your heart!

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