Hormonal Influences on Diabetes: The Tale of a Growing Global Epidemic

Our modern-day lifestyle and the prevalence of fast food diets come at a cost. With risk factors, including poor diet, lurking around every corner, diabetes is spreading like wildfire. But processed and sugary foods can go as far as triggering hormonal influences on diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 37.3 million Americans are now diabetic. That’s over 11% of the entire US population!

How did we get here? 

Risk factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity are on the rise, and once diabetic, the disease can lead to a wide array of medical complaints — while swallowing huge chunks of healthcare dollars in the process.

As November marks National Diabetes Month, let’s dive into the full depth of this epidemic and understand risk factors and hormonal influences on diabetes.

How Do You “Get” Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic illness and while genetics play a role in the disease, it’s also at the mercy of your diet and lifestyle. Diabetes can be triggered or exacerbated by poor eating habits, overweight or obesity, and a lack of physical activity. 

When you eat, most of your foods will be turned into simple sugars (glucose), so your body can use it as a source of energy. With glucose in your bloodstream, your pancreas begins to release insulin — which allows your body to process the excess glucose.

However, when you’re diabetic, your body can’t use the glucose as it should because there’s no or not enough insulin, or your cells don’t use the glucose like they’re supposed to, meaning much of the sugar remains in your bloodstream.

If your blood glucose remains high over longer periods of time, it can lead to other health problems. That’s why patients with diabetes are at a higher risk for kidney disease, vision loss, and cardiovascular problems.

Diabetes can be determined via a simple blood test where your healthcare provider can determine your hemoglobin A1c — which will shine light on your average blood sugar over a period of three months.

Hormonal Influences on Diabetes

Hormonal imbalances are endocrine issues that are created when your body makes either too little or too much of a specific hormone. This imbalance then triggers issues within your body as it detects that the hormone production is off. As with all endocrine disorders, hormonal influences also have an impact on your diabetes.

Diabetes itself is caused when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or when your cells don’t react normally to the release of insulin. Sometimes, you don’t produce any insulin at all — which can be the case for patients with type 1 diabetes.

What Causes Hormonal Imbalances?

Hormonal imbalances are not uncommon — especially in conjunction with our modern lifestyle. Many of the causes that can lead to hormone fluctuations are on an upward surge, affecting more and more people every day. These hormonal influences can also impact your diabetes and exacerbate your condition. 

Changes in your hormones can further impact other bodily functions and cause mild to severe symptoms. Hormone fluctuations can occur in your thyroid hormone, as well as estrogen, cortisol, and others. The male sex hormone can also be impacted, with low testosterone and diabetes closely linked. 

But what kind of power do these hormonal influences exert on your diabetes and what factors impact your hormones in the first place? Let’s find out.

Processed and Sugary Foods

The foods we eat affect our health — after all, the right foods can provide critical nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. At the same time, poor nutrition can increase the risk of inflammation in your body and add stress on your adrenal glands.

Foods can further impact how much of a certain hormone your body produces by direct actions on the gut. But it’s not just critical what you eat, but also how much, for how long, and what texture the foods have.

As processed foods are generally high in sugars, sodium, additives, and preservatives, there is little nutritional value to a lot of processed meals. On the contrary, sugary foods can cause your body to take on too much glucose than it can handle — which can then lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Increasing Obesity Rates

Obesity is one of the leading risk factors for diabetes with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing that almost 42% of Americans are now obese. And the trend continues to climb. But that’s not all — obesity directly correlates with diabetes while simultaneously exacerbating hormonal influences on diabetes.

Poor diet, a hectic lifestyle, high stress, and a lack of physical activity make obesity one of the leading causes of diabetes. But obesity has also been linked to hormonal imbalances, causing multiple endocrine alterations that are a result of changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary hormones axes.

Obesity has further been associated with low testosterone levels, noting that men with low T generally have more fat mass and less lean mass. Since obesity correlates with both diabetes and low testosterone levels, naturally low testosterone and diabetes tend to go hand-in-hand.

Low Testosterone and Diabetes

Obesity is one of the main variables that can lead to both low testosterone and diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, men who suffer from type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to also suffer from low T — establishing a strong connection between low testosterone and diabetes.

A meta-analysis conducted for thirteen studies and +16,000 participants found that both higher levels of total and free testosterone could significantly lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in males. This means that low testosterone levels are more likely to occur in men who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Research further indicates that men with low T have a higher chance of developing insulin resistance — and later diabetes. People suffering from insulin resistance have to produce more insulin to lower their blood sugar levels but ultimately cannot produce enough of the hormone. 

Another study further found that low T levels were correlated with higher levels of insulin resistance. Researchers suggest that testosterone likely plays a critical role in a signaling pathway responsible for absorbing glucose into the body’s cells. However, more research is needed to determine its exact role.

Lifestyle Changes Go a Long Way

While you might not be able to counteract all the factors that can lead to diabetes, you can alter many of the elements that are associated with lifestyle and diet — both of which are critical contributors and are able to impact the hormonal influences on your diabetes.

If you have both low testosterone and diabetes, know that lifestyle changes can go a long way here too. Clean eating, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can set you on the track toward better health.

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