Diabetes and Genetics: Are They Related?

diabetes and genetics

Diabetes is a complex condition that affects people all over the world. It is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body cells are unable to use the insulin properly. This leads to higher than normal levels of blood sugar (or blood glucose). Studies have shown that more than 60% of people with diabetes live in Asia. 

There are mainly two types of diabetes: 

  • Type 1 Diabetes (T1DM): This type occurs when your body produces antibodies which destroy the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. This condition is usually picked up when the patient is young and is usually linked to genetics.
  • Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM): Both environmental and genetic factors may lead to development of type 2 diabetes. Environmental factors like sedentary lifestyle and obesity are the main culprits for developing this condition. 

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Diabetes and genetics – Are they related?

Diabetes and genetics are definitely related. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, there is a high chance that one or both of your parents or siblings may be suffering from this condition as well. The development of diabetes is linked to several gene mutations. The interaction of mutated genes with environmental factors (such as sedentary lifestyle and obesity) increases your risk of developing diabetes. Thus, both environmental factors and genetics play a key role in developing this condition. 

Not everyone with mutated genes will develop diabetes. However, those with diabetes are likely to have one or more mutations in their genes. 

Genes responsible for the development of Type 2 diabetes

Your risk of developing diabetes will increase if a mutation occurs in any of the genes that control glucose levels. These genes include

  • Genes involved in the production of glucose
  • Genes involved in the production and regulation of insulin
  • Genes involved in how the body senses the glucose level

The most common types of genes involved are. 

  • TCF7L2: This gene affects glucose production and insulin secretion in the body. 
  • ABCC8: This regulates the insulin in the body.  
  • GLUT2: This gene helps move glucose into the pancreas. 
  • GCGR: This helps in glucose regulation in the body. 

What are the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes?

As mentioned earlier, both environmental and genetic factors play a key role in developing diabetes. This includes the following: 

  • You are in a prediabetic stage
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Age: 45 years or over
  • Overweight
  • You are not physically active
  • If you had gestational diabetes before while you were pregnant (for women)
  • You have heart disease or suffered a stroke

How to prevent diabetes?

The genetic factor contributing to diabetes cannot be prevented. Thus, you can control the environmental factors by leading a healthy lifestyle. 

Consume a balanced diet

Eating a diet rich in fibre and nutritious food is highly essential to lower the risk of developing diabetes. Make sure that your diet is rich in fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Whole grains consisting of quinoa, whole oats, whole grain rice and legumes (e.g. chickpeas and beans) should be made part of the diet. Consume meat in moderation. Refined and highly processed food items should also be avoided as much as possible. 

Besides, a well-balanced diet slows sugar absorption, regulates blood pressure, and provides sufficient energy. 

Be physically active

You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This can be in the form of aerobic exercises including brisk walking, biking and running, or resistance exercises like weight lifting and yoga. You should also limit the time of physical inactivity. This includes taking a walk every 20 minutes after sitting for long periods. This can potentially help control blood sugar levels as well. 

Being physically active also helps reduce weight which is a key risk factor for developing diabetes as well. 

Make lifestyle changes

Healthy lifestyle changes are very important to prevent diabetes. If you are a smoker, you should quit smoking. Drink plenty of water and reduce your intake of sugary beverages. Aim for healthier choices for your food and beverage to aid in reducing your weight

It is not only important that you consume a well-balanced diet. You should also aim to reduce the portion size. Eating too much at one time can increase the blood sugar level. 


Both genetic and environmental factors play key roles in the risk of developing diabetes. If either of your parents or siblings are suffering from this condition, your chance of developing the condition is also higher. Thus, it would be best to make lifestyle changes early on to prevent diabetes from developing or delay the occurrence of it for as long as possible. Besides, healthy lifestyle choices also help keep other lifestyle and chronic diseases at bay.

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