What you need to know about the relationship between cancer and diabetes

Marie-Luise Huber
What you need to know about the relationship between cancer and diabetes
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Metabolic Diseases & Diabetes

Diseases that mess with our energy balance and metabolic disorders, like obesity, have been on the rise for quite some time now. It's a bit concerning, but one of the biggest challenges to human health these days is diabetes. It's like a worldwide puzzle we're all trying to solve, with around one in eleven adults having diabetes (90% of whom have type 2 diabetes mellitus). And it’s not getting better. In fact, the numbers are expected to keep going up in the coming years.

It's fascinating, but not in a good way, to see how diabetes has become such a significant public health problem, even though it's not an infectious disease. Some health organizations and researchers even call it an epidemic. What’s even more perplexing is that nearly half of the cases of diabetes and prediabetes are undiagnosed.

Diabetes on the rise

Now, the reason behind this diabetes boom is not that complicated. Over the past few decades, changes in our diets and the fact that we're becoming more and more sedentary have caused a shift in our metabolism. And you know what else? It has also led to a global increase in obesity, which dramatically raises the risk of developing diabetes. It's a bit of a domino effect.

To make matters worse is the fact that people with diabetes face a significantly higher risk of many types of cancer. This tells us that obesity and diabetes really do wreak havoc on our metabolic health.

It is estimated that metabolic disorders such as obesity could overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer in the next 10 to 15 years. These facts are alarming even for healthy people!  

Prof. Dr. Stephan Herzig, professor and senior researcher at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), says: "Everything a healthy person can do to prevent diabetes and obesity contributes significantly to cancer prevention."

Diabetes increases the risk of cancer

Now, let's dive a bit deeper into the connection between diabetes and cancer.

Both conditions share several risk factors like genetics, age, and gender that we can't really do much about. However, there are some modifiable risk factors that we can prevent, like smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and poor diet. The last three elements are known as the tree musketeers of metabolic dysfunction. They are the culprits behind a lot of the trouble.

Keeping a healthy metabolism is key to preventing both diabetes and cancer. Studies have shown that even individuals with normal weight but metabolically unhealthy have a significantly higher risk of cancer mortality.

There's some pharmacological evidence too! Metformin, which is widely used to treat type 2 diabetes, has been found to have cancer-protective effects, even in non-diabetic individuals. One of the ways it does this is by improving metabolism, particularly insulin sensitivity. So, it's a medication with some extra superpowers!


5 tips for your healthy everyday life

There is no sure way to prevent cancer, but you can reduce your risk by making smart lifestyle adjustments and taking control of modifiable risk factors. Here are 5 simple tips you can incorporate into your daily routine.

Use your muscles

Just 30 minutes of muscle exercise per week can reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes by 10-17%.


Get moving

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which includes activities like walking. By doing this, you can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26% and also reduce the risk of 13 different types of cancer.

Nourish your body 

Make sure you eat a healthy diet rich in plant foods (legumes, whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits), low in meat, fish and dairy, and low in alcohol, salty, processed and sugary foods. Your body will thank you. 

Keeping an eye on body weight 

We mentioned earlier that obesity is one of the strongest risk factors for both diabetes and cancer. So, try to maintain a weight within the healthy range (BMI of 18.5-24.9).

Keep an eye on your blood glucose levels

Monitoring your blood glucose levels is a good indicator of how well or poorly adjusted your metabolism is. By staying aware of it, you can gain knowledge and take control of your metabolic health, reducing your risk not only for diabetes but also for cancer.

So take your health into your own hands! Try these small but effective adjustments and live your best and healthiest life. You can do it! 💪

It's important to remember that everyone's metabolic response to diets, exercise, and other stimuli that affect our metabolic health, like stress, is different.You are unique, and so is your metabolic response.By using your blood glucose levels to improve and personalize your unique metabolic response, you can maximize the benefits of these steps based on your metabolic phenotype.

Interested in learning more? We have a blog post that introduces blood glucose and sustainable health. It's definitely worth a read!

The next step

Look at your own blood glucose data. Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and the Hello Inside help you visualize in real time how foods affect your blood glucose and metabolic health. We will help you discover what eating healthy means for you, so you can take control and don’t have to follow a one-size-fits-all anymore. 


Marie-Luise Huber
Luise has spent the last 15 years studying nutrition and guiding people toward healthy lifestyles. Before becoming Head of Nutrition at Hello Inside, she helped parents plan the right lunches for their children. Luise also optimized food ingredients in Central and Eastern European countries. She has helped more than 1000 people of all ages on their weight loss journey. Her favorite tip for balancing blood sugar is exercise, as Luise loves to run, ski or bike. And she loves to bake (not always blood sugar friendly).
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