What Causes Diabetes? The Possible Reasons

Parul Dube

December 4, 2022

Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires ongoing medical attention and self-care. When someone has diabetes, the body fails to maintain healthy glucose levels in the blood.

However, did you know that diabetes is not one condition? Researchers now classify diabetes into five types, some of which may be more severe than others. 

A large groundbreaking study finds that the subgroups of diabetes have their causative factors. That information can make your diabetes management plan more successful and personalised.

Regardless of what type of diabetes you or a loved one has, understanding its cause is a step toward improved treatment.

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition when your body cannot make or effectively use a hormone called insulin. Since there is insufficient insulin, your body cannot move glucose from your bloodstream into your muscle, fat, and liver cells.

It leads to a glucose surplus in your bloodstream. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the most common forms. Still, there are other forms, such as prediabetes and gestational diabetes. 

If you’re living with diabetes, you probably wondered how you developed diabetes or whether your children will develop it, too. Sometimes you inherit a predisposition to diabetes, or something in your environment triggers it.

While the exact cause of most types of diabetes is unknown, age, gender, weight, genetic makeup, family medical history, ethnicity, and environmental factors can influence the risk of developing diabetes. Therefore, there is no common cause of diabetes that fits every diabetes subgroup, as it varies depending on the individual and the type.

Managing Diabetes like a Pro

Whether you manage your diabetes with daily insulin injections, oral medications or through diet and exercise, HealthifyMe’s Biosensor System with a Continuous Glucose Monitor gives you the insights to track and manage your diabetes on your own.

The CGM tracks your glucose levels 24/7 through a tiny sensor attached to your arm and can sync with your mobile phone, laptop, or computer as per your choice.

The real-time and easy-to-read data from CGM can alert you if your glucose levels go too low or too high. Recent studies also show that CGM is safe and effective in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, improving glycemic control. 

So, who should be using a HealthifyPRO CGM? Or when should you start using it? CGM is not limited to hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic patients. Any health-conscious person who wishes to track blood glucose levels effortlessly can switch to HealthifyPro 2.0. It gives glucose alerts and warnings if you have diabetes risk factors, such as PCOS, hypertension and high cholesterol

In addition to CGM, HealthifyPRO 2.0 comes with a smart scale, a calorie, sleep and water tracking system, doctor consultation, and a metabolic panel measuring 85+ health parameters.

The smart scale measures your progress, and the metabolic health screening can identify underlying health issues that might slow down your progress. The subscription plans also include targeted programs like weight loss, which benefits obese or overweight individuals with or without diabetes looking to manage their weight.

Type 1 Diabetes Causes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body has auto-antibodies that destroy the insulin-producing pancreatic cells. As these cells decrease, the body’s ability to create insulin decreases. The little to no insulin causes glucose to build up in your blood.

Because the destroyed pancreatic cells cannot supply the body with sufficient insulin, type 1 diabetes leaves you insulin-dependent for life. Therefore, it’s also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. Studies show that about 5%–10% of diabetics are type 1. 

For decades, there was a common misconception of type 1 diabetes being a juvenile disease that typically appears in early childhood or adolescence. However, type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but often gets diagnosed at a younger age. 

The destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells varies from person to person. Some people experience a gradual decrease in beta cells, while some lose the functioning beta cells exceptionally quickly. During the onset, the pancreas can still produce some insulin. Therefore, an outside source of insulin is necessary during this phase. Still, as the body continues to reduce the amount of insulin produced, insulin levels from an external source must get adjusted.

Doctors are not sure about the exact cause of type 1 diabetes. Still, genetics and a combination of risk factors may develop the condition. The genes you inherit and your family’s history of type 1 diabetes create a greater likelihood of developing the disease. In most cases, a faulty immune system is the underlying cause of type 1 diabetes.

Here are some other risk factors that may trigger type 1 diabetes for some people:


White people may have a higher genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes since genes called HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4 are more common in this group.

However, a study also states that the HLA-DR7 gene might put African Americans at risk for type 1 diabetes. In addition, the HLA-DR9 gene may put Japanese people at risk.

Environmental Factors

Even though the exact mechanism is unclear, some viruses may trigger type 1 diabetes. Adult-onset or late-onset type 1 diabetes often develops due to one or more viral infections, such as an enteric virus called Coxsackieviruses. Chemical toxins within the food can also trigger your immune system to destroy the cells that make insulin.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95% of people with diabetes. It is the most common form of diabetes and affects how the body responds to insulin.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is not insulin-dependent and has a stronger link to family history and lineage. Some people are diagnosed with symptoms of prediabetes, which transforms into a full onset of type 2 diabetes when left untreated. 

Here are the common causes of type 2 diabetes:

Insulin Resistance

Type 2 diabetes develops when your body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, also known as insulin resistance. Hence, cells stop responding to insulin and cause a glucose build-up in the blood.

Read more: What Causes Insulin Resistance?

As glucose levels rise, the pancreas responds by producing more and more insulin, but the cells are still insulin resistant. As this cycle continues, the pancreas exhausts itself, becomes damaged, and reduces the amount of insulin altogether. In the later stages of type 2 diabetes, you might require outside sources of insulin.

Metabolic Syndrome

A metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions, including high blood sugar, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and hypertension. Since it is a cluster of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, doctors view metabolic syndrome as a predictor of type 2 diabetes.

Read more: Metabolic Syndrome Diet: A Detailed Guide!

In addition, a study says that early detection of metabolic syndrome helps not only for preventing type 2 diabetes mellitus but also to decrease the risk for associated cardiovascular complications.


Those with a higher percentage of visceral fat or body fat around the abdomen are more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes. The extra fat deposits and a lack of physical activity cause insulin resistance, leading to type 2 diabetes.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes refers to high blood sugar during pregnancy that can cause complications for both mother and child. Nearly 6-9% of all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, but it often disappears after giving birth. It usually occurs in women around 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

It increases the risk of future gestational diabetes in later pregnancies. Moreover, there is an increased risk for the mother and child to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

During pregnancy, your body goes through many changes, including hormonal changes. The placental hormones produced during pregnancy can reduce the body’s ability to use insulin effectively. As a result, it can cause high blood sugar levels.

Some other risk factors involved in gestational diabetes are:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Prediabetes
  • Late pregnancy
  • A high percentage of body fat before becoming pregnant
  • Gaining too much weight during pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • PCOS

Other Diabetes Causes

Other lesser-known forms of diabetes can arise due to the following reasons:


DIDMOAD syndrome (Diabetes Insipidus, Diabetes Mellitus, Optic Atrophy, and Deafness) is a rare genetic disorder that can cause diabetes mellitus or diabetes insipidus.

Alström Syndrome is another rare hereditary cause of type 2 diabetes in youth. Any mutation or change in the gene that produces insulin can also cause neonatal diabetes and Mature Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY).


Sometimes, long-term use of medications like steroids and antipsychotics causes diabetes. For example, corticosteroid use, usually for three months or longer, triggers steroid-induced diabetes.

It is extremely rare and often temporary. However, if the condition becomes chronic, you must take insulin or oral diabetes medication for life.

Antiretroviral Therapy 

The use of antiretroviral therapy for treating HIV infection may have unanticipated adverse metabolic effects, including diabetes and insulin resistance.

In addition, it can cause antiretroviral-associated diabetes by triggering autoimmunity and concurrent impairment of insulin secretion.

Cystic Fibrosis

In people with cystic fibrosis, thick, sticky mucus causes pancreatic scarring. It prevents the pancreas from producing average insulin amounts.

The scarred pancreas may make some insulin but not enough to keep you healthy. Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes shares some features with type 1 and types 2 diabetes. 

What Food Causes Diabetes?

Eating unhealthy foods can cause various health issues, including high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Here are four main categories of food that increase your risk for diabetes:

Heavily Processed Carbohydrates

Processed and refined carbs have virtually no nutritional value. Instead, these simple carbohydrates cause rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes.

In addition, the refined sugar, refined wheat flour and unhealthy fats in packaged snacks and processed baked goods increase your risk of obesity and other diabetes risk factors. Therefore, avoid or limit your intake of white bread, rice and pasta, pastries, cookies and cakes. 

Saturated and Trans Fats 

These fats are unhealthy dietary fats that can trigger diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Saturated fats are  found in full-fat dairy products such as butter, cream, whole milk, cheese, and fatty meats.

Fried foods and fast foods are familiar sources of trans fat. Therefore, replace full-fat dairy products with low-fat or skimmed options. And go for natural sources of fats and omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, nuts and seeds, or avocados.

Red Meats and Processed Meats 

Fatty cuts of red meat and processed meats have higher levels of sodium, fat, calories, and nitrites, which not only cause type 2 diabetes but raise heart disease risk.

Read more: Red Meat: Is it Harmful to Your Health?

A study shows that a three-ounce or 85 g serving of red meat daily increased the type 2 diabetes risk by 19%. Replace hot dogs, bacon, beef brisket, pork ribs, rib-eye steak and deli meats with leaner meats, such as chicken or turkey breast.

Sweetened Beverages

Sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit drinks, sweet tea, and lemonade can lead to weight gain or obesity and increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Sugary drinks are high in added sugar and usually contain no protein or fibre, so they can cause your glucose levels to rise and drop quickly.

The HealthifyMe Note

The blood-sugar responses to different foods are highly personal. Therefore, there are no one-size-fits-all dietary approaches in predicting the glucose level responses to food. However, overeating red meat, processed meat, refined carbs, saturated and trans fats, and sugary beverages lead to weight gain and might increase insulin resistance. 

How Can Nutritionists Help With Diabetes?

Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is the primary focus of managing diabetes. Watching portion sizes and choosing nutritious, low-GI foods can help you control blood glucose levels. Moreover, a registered nutritionist can help you get the nutrients you need to help you better manage diabetes.

Talking with a nutritionist lets you figure out what foods are compatible with your glucose levels and works with you on long-term diet plans. 

People with diabetes need to understand that the effect of foods and nutrition on glucose levels varies from person to person. Opting for HealthifyPRO 2.0 gives you access to tailored diet charts based on your unique response to various foods.

RIA, the interactive AI Nutritionist, will ensure that you stay on track by providing you with healthier choices for your unhealthy food cravings.

In addition, the health coaches at HealthifyMe help put together a daily meal plan that considers your food preferences, allergies, level of physical activity, and lifestyle choices to improve your health outcomes.


Diabetes is a complex condition that requires proper management, treatment, and planning. Type 1 diabetes, type 2, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes are the most commonly diagnosed, but there are other types.

In most cases, a combination of genetic and environmental factors causes diabetes. The lesser-known diabetes types are often a result of rare conditions, gene mutations, and medications like steroids and antipsychotics.

There is no cure for most forms of diabetes. Still, you can lower your risk with a healthy diet, losing weight, and improving your general lifestyle habits.

And suppose you have diabetes and find it challenging to monitor the sudden rise or fall in the blood glucose level. In that case, the HealthifyPRO CGM is a perfect choice. With a CGM, you can track your sugar levels throughout the day and get accurate results every time.

The real-time variations are noted by nutritionists and coaches, who help you to design an activity and food plan suited to your work, lifecycle, age, and preferences. Here customisation lies at the centre of the offering. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Can type 1 diabetes be caused by diet?

A. No, your diet doesn’t cause type 1 diabetes. Since type 1 diabetes is a case of autoimmunity, only genetic and environmental factors contribute to disease risk. However, chemical toxins within foods in infant and childhood diets may play a role in type 1 diabetes autoimmunity. 

Q. Can eating too much sugar cause diabetes?

A. Sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes. However, you are more likely to gain excess weight from overeating added and refined sugar. In addition, being obese or overweight makes you insulin resistant, leading to diabetes. 

Q. What are the main causes of type 2 diabetes?

A. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not respond to it effectively. Lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese, a family history of diabetes, and a poor diet increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. For women, having PCOS or a history of gestational diabetes increases the risk.

Q. What foods cause type 2 diabetes?

A. A poor diet is often a primary cause of type 2 diabetes. Heavily processed carbohydrates, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated and trans fats, red meats and processed meats can cause type 2 diabetes. Therefore, you must avoid or moderate your intake of these foods to reduce the risk. 

Q. Is gestational diabetes caused by poor diet?

A. Yes, having a poor diet before and during pregnancy can cause gestational diabetes. The overall quality of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins you eat plays a vital role during pregnancy. Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat, processed meats, and high glycaemic load increase the risk of gestational diabetes. However, following high-fibre and low-GI diets could be beneficial. 

Q. What are the foods to prevent diabetes?

A. High-fibre and low-GI diets can help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Nuts, oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are highly beneficial in preventing the onset of diabetes. Follow a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium to reduce your risk for diabetes. 

Q. What problems can type 1 diabetes cause?

A. Untreated or poorly managed type 1 diabetes can cause heart disease, poor immunity, kidney disease, poor oral health, stroke, and frequent skin infections. It also makes you more vulnerable to diabetes-related retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular oedema. Therefore, you need constant day-to-day care and management to prevent the potential complications of type 1 diabetes.

Q. What genetically causes type 1 diabetes?

A. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe specific genes in particular races and ethnicities cause type 1 diabetes. For instance, specific gene variants like HLA-DQA1, HLA-DQB1, and HLA-DRB1 increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Moreover, genetic information is necessary for making proteins that manage the immune system. And a faulty immune system more often than not causes type 1 diabetes.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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