Sort 2 Diabetes Threat in Folks of South Asian Background

Folks of South Asian descent might have the next danger of kind 2 diabetes than they could anticipate, even when they don’t seem to be obese. 

South Asians – people who find themselves from or hint their ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, which incorporates India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal – are as much as 4 instances extra more likely to have kind 2 diabetes than individuals of different ethnic backgrounds. And plenty of South Asians identified with kind 2 diabetes have a standard weight and physique mass index (BMI). 

Afreen Idris Shariff, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at Duke College College of Medication, has seen this danger in her sufferers, her household, and even herself. Right here, she shares her ideas on what individuals of South Asian background have to know to assist forestall, get screened for, and handle and even reverse their kind 2 diabetes.This interview was edited for size and readability.

WebMD: What led you to grow to be an endocrinologist and direct your focus towards kind 2 diabetes?

Shariff: After medical college, I utilized and interviewed for nephrology [a medical specialty focused on the kidneys] after which modified paths to hitch endocrinology after I obtained identified with gestational diabetes. Additionally, my father has had kind 2 diabetes since I used to be a child and since his early 40s, however a few years into me being an attending [physician] he began displaying a really totally different sample of diabetes. My journey began with my private story and ended with me diagnosing and caring for my very own father.

WebMD: Why do South Asians who’re skinny have a danger of kind 2 diabetes?

Shariff: That is as a result of we have now adipose tissue round our liver and our muscle that makes us insulin resistant. Name it visceral adiposity. It principally blocks the impact of insulin on these crucial constructions. Now, the mind and the muscle are two areas in your physique that basically do not want any insulin to uptake glucose. So … regardless that individuals are exercising, they [can] develop insulin resistance and kind 2 diabetes [if] their muscle tissues should not ready to take in that blood sugar.


WebMD: How do BMI and insulin play a task in South Asians who’re identified with kind 2 diabetes? 

Shariff: Most of my sufferers who are available in with kind 2 diabetes are sometimes very wholesome. They’ve a standard BMI, they train, and so they nonetheless can’t perceive why they can not budge that A1c.[Editor’s note: The hemoglobin A1c test checks your average blood sugar level for the past 2-3 months. A normal A1c level is below 5.7%. An A1c level of 5.7% to 6.4% is in the prediabetes range. And 6.5% or higher is in the diabetes range. You’d get that checked twice before diagnosing diabetes.]

An excellent instance is myself; I’ve a low BMI but I took 40 models of insulin after I was pregnant [and had gestational diabetes].

Usually when you’ve gotten kind 2 diabetes, you’ve gotten insulin resistance. You will have plenty of insulin, but it surely does not work as effectively. So that you require a complete lot extra insulin to do the job of what it ought to have carried out with out the resistance. 

South Asians have each insulin resistance and insulin deficiency. [One theory says that] Inherently as a race we have now beta cell dysfunction, or what we name beta cell blunting. If you eat a meal, your sugar goes up, goes to the pancreas, and tells it to launch insulin. You require a a lot larger quantity of blood sugar to launch insulin and your beta cells should not as lively as they need to be.

WebMD: If somebody of South Asian descent goes to their major care physician, what danger elements necessitate screening for kind 2 diabetes?


  • A BMI better than 23. [Editor’s note: This is below the BMI threshold for being overweight.]
  • Any first-degree relative [parent, child, or sibling] that has kind 2 diabetes
  • Another member of the family who has kind 2 diabetes plus a historical past of coronary heart illness, hypertension, and triglycerides better than 250
  • Females who’ve a historical past of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) 

 WebMD: How can somebody of South Asian descent advocate for themselves to get examined for kind 2 diabetes at their major care physician’s workplace?

Shariff: It’s vital that South Asians advocate for themselves and inform their major care doctor, “I perceive that you’d sometimes not have gotten an A1c in somebody like me, however as a result of I am South Asian, my danger is far larger at a decrease BMI and I am at the next danger for having kind 2 diabetes. This is the reason it’s best to display me.”

WebMD: How do you counsel your sufferers relating to food regimen and train?

Shariff: I by no means say you might want to cease consuming one thing [if you have] diabetes, which is a breath of recent air for many sufferers. I say, ‘I need you to grasp what you’ll be able to eat much less of and what you have to be consuming extra of and methods to steadiness your food regimen.’

Many South Asians are vegetarian and it’s a heavy carb food regimen. No matter kind of carb you’re going to eat, it’s going to lift your blood sugar. Attempt to keep true to your flavors and be inventive with how one can modify the carb parts of your meals into much less carbohydrates, or excessive fiber, excessive protein choices. 

Typically individuals train and different instances they don’t. I put 70% emphasis in your food regimen. In the event you eat meals that work along with your analysis of diabetes, your sugars are going to be higher. This permits your insulin resistance to come back down. 

 WebMD: What message do you wish to ship South Asians relating to a sort 2 diabetes analysis? 

Shariff: It’s a must to steadiness sustainability and perceive you might want to search assist. You don’t need diabetes to outline you. 


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