8 Unexpected Things That Have Nothing To Do With Food That Can Cause Diabetes

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In general, diabetes is a disease people typically associate with an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. But there's more to it than that. Someone can develop diabetes for a variety of reasons, and there are some pretty unexpected causes of diabetes to keep in mind when paying attention to your health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and another 84 million have prediabetes — a condition when your blood sugar is higher than usual, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at a younger age and is a lot less common than type 2. Out of the 30 million-plus people who have the disease in the U.S., 90 to 95 percent of them have type 2 diabetes. The main difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the pancreas no longer makes insulin, whereas with type 2 diabetes, the body produces some insulin, but it may not be enough for the body, or the body's cells may be resistant to it.

Diabetes is so common, yet 1 in 4 people don't know they have it. There are many subtle signs of diabetes to watch out for like being thirsty often or needing to pee all the time. But when it comes to getting the disease, many assume it's only limited to unhealthy lifestyle choices.

"The biggest misconception people seem to have about getting type 2 diabetes is that they think the root cause is related to eating too much sugar and managing it means you can’t have sugar or carbohydrates anymore," Grace Derocha, certified diabetes educator and health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, tells Bustle. "But this is false."

Here are some lesser-known and more unexpected causes of diabetes, according to experts.

1. Having An STI

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This may come as a surprise but some STIs can significantly up the chance of you getting diabetes. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics found that people with a history of viral infections like chlamydia can increase your risk for getting type 2 diabetes by 82 percent. Herpes zoster can also increase the risk of getting diabetes by about 90 percent. That's why it's important to keep up with your health and be sure to get tested if anything seems amiss. It may seem daunting, but there is nothing to be ashamed of — your healthcare provider will help you treat the infection, and prevent any further complications.

2. Using Mouthwash Daily


A 2017 study published in the journal Nitric Oxide found using mouthwash more than twice a day can increase your risk of developing pre-diabetes or diabetes. As researchers found, most mouthwash contain antibacterial ingredients which can kill good oral microbes that are critical for protecting against diabetes. People who used mouthwash twice a day were 55 percent more likely to develop dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels over the course of three years. While it is important to take care of your oral health, remember everything in moderation.

3. Not Getting Enough Sun

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Getting enough vitamin D in your system is known to help improve your mood, but it also has a role in diabetes prevention. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found people who have low levels of vitamin D are more at risk for getting diabetes than those with normal levels. Since getting some sun can help your skin produce vitamin D, not getting the right amount of sunlight can potentially increase your risk of getting diabetes. Furthermore, the study also found that vitamin D was more closely associated with diabetes than obesity.

4. Having The Flu

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A 2012 study in the Journal of Virology found having the flu virus can potentially trigger type 1 diabetes. Since type 1 is an autoimmune disease, researchers found that the flu virus can trigger a set of inflammatory cells which recognize insulin-producing cells and destroy them. However, this response has mostly been observed in animals, and more research needs to be done to figure out what the risk is for humans.

5. Having A Sleep Disorder

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"Undiagnosed and/or untreated sleep apnea may cause, or worsen, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, so it’s recommended that all adults with diabetes be screened for sleep apnea," Dr. Joseph Krainin, board certified doctor in Sleep Medicine and Neurology and Chief Medical Advisor for SoClean, tells Bustle. A 2014 study published in North American Journal of Medical Sciences also found that having moderate or severe sleep apnea was linked with insulin resistance, a marker of diabetes. According to SoClean, over 70 percent of adults with type 2 diabetes suffer from sleep apnea. For those who already suffer from sleep apnea and diabetes, Krainin recommends seeking Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment, usually involving a machine that keeps airways open, "as it improves blood sugar control." And if you are experiencing issues, and believe it may be sleep apnea, speak with your doctor to see what treatment methods can work for you.

6. Long-term Use Of Certain Medications

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Unfortunately medicine isn't perfect. Taking medication to treat one thing may actually lead you to get another. For instance, people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or asthma often are placed on long-term steroids, which can increase the risk for developing diabetes. As Dr. Jeff Stanley, MD, with Virta Health, tells Bustle, high dosages of prolonged steroid use like prednisone, can elevate blood sugar levels. "Patients should be aware that elevated blood sugar leads to elevated insulin levels," Stanley says. "If the body builds a resistance to insulin, a person is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes." If you are taking a long-term steroid for an inflammatory disease, talk with your doctor about the risk factor of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as ways to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

7. Using Plastic Containers


The endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones used to regulate major processes in your body, like your blood glucose levels. Essentially, it works to keep your hormones balanced, so it's important to have a healthy, functioning endocrine system if you want to reduce the risk of getting diabetes.

A 2017 study published in the journal Environmental Research found a link between phthalates, a group of chemicals found in plastics and other consumer products, and type 2 diabetes. In a study of 1,500 men, 99.6 percent were found to have phthalates in their urine. Participants with higher levels of phthlates were more likely to have a number of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

As Allison Caggia, Editorial Director at Diabetes Daily, tells Bustle, "Plastics are a main source of environmental endocrine disrupting material. As plastics break down over time, the chemicals leach from the plastics into the air." In addition to that, food that's sold in cans or plastics absorb the chemicals from its containers. The same goes for when food is heated in plastic containers or bags. According to Caggia, endocrine disrupting chemicals are also found in the synthetic fragrances in cleaning products and body care products. The best solution? Keep plastic container use to a minimum, when possible.

8. Your Birth Order

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Your birth order can influence different aspects of yourself such as your personality. It may come as a surprise, but if you're a first born child, your liklihood of getting diabetes is higher than anyone else. "Studies across the globe have found that first borns are more likely to encounter health problems than their younger siblings," Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert, for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle.

In fact, a 2013 study published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found first born children have more difficulty absorbing sugars into the body and have higher daytime blood pressure.

The good news is, there are easy ways to reduce your risk of getting the disease. As Jill Weisenberger, MS, certified diabetes educator, wellness coach, and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide, tells Bustle, work on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

"Take a walk or engage in any physical activity to improve your body's response to glucose, and choose all of your foods wisely with an emphasis on wholesome nutrient-dense choices," she says. The reality is, diabetes can happen to anyone and everyone. Sometimes, diseases like this are just out of your control. But making healthy lifestyle decisions won't hurt.