It is a well-known fact that people with diabetes who smoke are at even higher risk for diabetes complications, such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, eye disease and foot problems. But did you know smoking actually contributes to insulin resistance which may increase the risk of developing prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes?
Insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body does not respond efficiently to insulin. Insulin is the hormone made by the pancreas, an internal organ which helps control blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance can occur if you have a family history of it, are overweight and/or have a sedentary lifestyle.
As insulin resistance progresses so does the likelihood of prediabetes and subsequently Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis. Prediabetes usually occurs prior to the diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Approximately 9 out of 10 Americans who have prediabetes aren’t aware they have it. Ninety-five percent of diabetes diagnoses are Type 2.
Smoking and insulin resistance
Experts report smokers are insulin resistant and the more you smoke, the greater your chances of Type 2 diabetes. Data suggest if you smoke 16 to 25 cigarettes a day, your risk for Type 2 diabetes is three times higher than if you don’t smoke. In contrast, if you quit smoking and stay quit, your risk for Type 2 diabetes actually decreases.
When you have prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes and you smoke, your A1C — the blood test that measures your average glucose control over a two to three month period — may improve when you quit.
Smoking and diabetes complications
When you have diabetes and smoke, your risk for complications from diabetes goes up. Damage to the blood vessels and nerves in your body is more common and often to a greater degree than if you have diabetes and don’t smoke. The heavier and the longer you smoke the greater your risk for complications.
The bottom line is that smoking and diabetes are a dangerous combination. The good news is that by quitting smoking and keeping your blood glucose optimally controlled, you can greatly lower your chances for diabetes complications.
Now that you have an understanding of the importance of quitting smoking, you must decide that you want to quit. Talk with your health care provider about options available to help you quit smoking and then choose one that might work best for you. Some use a combination of options to quit smoking and that is OK, too. Take action to minimize insulin resistance, decrease your risk for prediabetes/Type 2 diabetes, or improve your blood glucose control if you live with Type 2 diabetes. And, you will be amazed at how much more energy you will have and how much better you’ll feel.
Dr. Laura Hieronymus is associate director of education & quality services at the Barnstable Brown Kentucky Diabetes Center at the University of Kentucky