Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia.
When you eat, your body breaks food down into glucose and sends it into blood. Insulin then helps move the glucose from the blood into your cells. When glucose enters your cells, it is either used as fuel for energy right away or stored for later use. In a person with diabetes, there is a problem with insulin. But not everyone with diabetes has the same problem. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use insulin it does make well, or both.
Diabetes may be treated with insulin, oral medications, exercise, and meal planning. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to several complications such as nerve damage, kidney or eye problems, heart disease, and stroke. But, if managed well, you can live a long healthy life with diabetes.
For those with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly destroys the beta-cells. Beta cells in your pancreas that make insulin. Your body treats these beta-cells as foreign invaders and destroys them. The destruction can happen over a few weeks, months, or years. When enough beta cells are destroyed, your pancreas stops making insulin, or makes so little insulin that you need to take insulin to live.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin-resistance and consists of up to 95% of the diabetes in Asian descendents. At first, the beta cells make extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time your pancreas isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels. The high rate of type 2 diabetes, particularly among those of Asian descent, is a result of a combination of genetic and environmental influences.
Some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their diabetes with healthy eating and exercise. Besides a change in diet and lifestyle, you may need a prescription for oral medications (pills) and/or insulin to help you meet your target blood glucose levels. Diabetes is a progressive disease – even if you don’t need to treat your diabetes with medications at first, you may need to over time.
Asian and Pacific Islanders and Diabetes
Despite having a lower body weight, Asian Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have diabetes. Diabetes is a rapidly growing health challenge among Asians and Pacific Islanders who have immigrated to the United States, affecting about 10 percent of Asian Americans; about 90 to 95 percent of Asians with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The higher rate of type 2 diabetes in Asian descents results from a combination of genetic and environmental influences.
Currently, the rate of diabetes in Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs) is increasing rapidly. It is partly caused by change of food choices—from traditional plant and fish based diets to foods with more animal protein, animal fats, and processed carbohydrates. Being less physically active also lead to increasing risk of developing diabetes. Asians may develop diabetes from even a small amount of weight gain despite having a low body weight due to genetic factors.
- Prevalence of diabetes in 2010 was 3 times greater among APIs than non-Hispanic Whites.*
- The rate of developing diabetes among APIs has increased from 5.9% to 9.9% in LA County between from 1997 to 2011.
Obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels. However, often times Asian Americans are left out of this conversation because of a misconception that skinny means healthy. Obesity rates in Asian Americans are low based off of current BMI rates, but this doesn’t present the entire picture, especially when we know that Asian Americans are more likely to have something called “skinny fat.” While Asian Americans have a rate of diabetes at 10 percent (compared with 7 percent of whites) a recent study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) shared that more than half of Asian Americans with diabetes are undiagnosed.
- > 50%: The percentage of Asian-Americans with diabetes and do not know it
- 23: Asians who have a Body Mass Index of 23 should be tested for diabetes