Your metabolism refers to all the chemical reactions in your body. These chemical reactions require energy. The amount of energy they require differs between people based on factors such as your age, body weight, and body composition.

Diabetes disrupts your body’s use of the hormone called insulin. This hormone regulates your blood sugar by shuttling glucose from your bloodstream to your tissues. If left uncontrolled, diabetes causes chronically high blood sugar levels that can damage your organs and blood vessels.

Here, we’ll cover how diabetes affects your metabolism and examine the relationship between diabetes and obesity.

Every second, billions of chemical reactions occur in your body. These chemical reactions are collectively known as your metabolism.

Each of these reactions requires energy. Even extracting useable energy from your food requires energy.

Metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns in a certain amount of time, usually measured in calories. It’s made up of three main components: your basal metabolic rate, energy burned during digestion, and energy burned through physical activity.

Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns at rest. It varies between people based on factors such as:

  • body weight
  • age
  • fat to muscle ratio
  • genetics

A 2014 study reviewed the results of studies published from 1920 to 2011 and found the average metabolic rate was 0.392 calories per pound of body weight per hour. For a 150-pound person, this equates to 1,411 calories per day.

The researchers found basal metabolic rate was higher in men than women and was lowest in overweight adults.

People with and without diabetes have almost identical metabolisms except for one key difference: People with diabetes have dysfunction of the hormone insulin.

Normally, after you consume food, carbohydrates are broken down by your saliva and digestive system. Once carbohydrates are broken down, they enter your bloodstream in the form of a sugar called glucose. Your pancreas produces insulin, which sends glucose to your cells for energy.

People with diabetes either don’t respond to insulin or don’t produce enough, or both. This can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body attacks and destroys cells in your pancreas called beta cells, which produce insulin. It’s usually diagnosed between childhood and young adulthood.

People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin through injections or an insulin pump to lower their blood sugar.

Without insulin, blood sugar levels remain elevated and can cause damage to your body, leading to complications such as:

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes makes up 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases. It occurs when your body becomes insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance is when your cells stop responding to insulin and your blood sugar remains elevated.

To compensate for insulin resistance, your pancreas produces more insulin. This overproduction can damage the beta cells in your pancreas. Eventually, your pancreas won’t be able to produce enough insulin to lower your blood sugar efficiently.

When your blood sugar levels remain elevated but aren’t high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your condition is known as prediabetes. More than 1 in 3 American adults have prediabetes.

Having obesity is the leading risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. It’s thought to increase your risk by at least 6 times, regardless of genetic predisposition.

People who are overweight or with obesity are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of five risk factors that increase your risk of developing stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The risk factors are:

Researchers are still investigating why people who have obesity are more likely to develop diabetes than people who do not have obesity. One theory is that people who have obesity have increased levels of free fatty acids in their blood, which may stimulate the release of insulin and contribute to the development of insulin resistance.

People with diabetes often need to take insulin to keep blood sugar levels at a normal level. Insulin is usually taken through injections via pens or syringes. You can also take insulin through an insulin pump inserted under your skin.

Another option is inhaled insulin that you breathe in through your lungs. This type of insulin is absorbed quickly and wears off quicker as well — 1.5 to 2 hours compared to 4 hours with rapid-acting injectable insulin.

There are five main types of insulin that help keep blood sugar levels stable. A doctor can help you decide which is best for you.

TypeTime to start workingDuration of effectWhen taken
Rapid-Actingwithin 15 minutesa few hoursJust before or after eating
Short-Actingwithin 30 minutes to 1 houra few hours30 to 45 minutes before eating
Intermediate-Actingwithin 2 to 4 hoursreaches its peak after 6 to 8 hoursbetween meals, at bedtime, or in the morning
Long-Actingwithin 2 to 4 hoursup to 24 hoursoften in the morning or bedtime
Pre-Mixed (combination of two types)variesvariesvaries

Taking too much insulin can lead to low blood sugar, which can be potentially life-threatening in severe cases. Going a long time between meals, skipping meals, or exercising can contribute to low blood sugar.

Monitoring your blood sugar level regularly can help you make an informed decision about food and medications. Over time, you’ll develop a better understanding of how your body responds to certain foods or exercise.

To make taking the right amount of insulin easier, many people count carbohydrates. Eating a high-carb meal, especially one filled with simple carbohydrates, will cause your blood sugar levels to rise more than eating a lower carbohydrate meal, and more insulin is needed to keep your blood sugar at a normal range.

Finding the right diabetes specialist gives you the best chance of keeping your diabetes under control.

A doctor likely has experience treating patients with diabetes and can walk you through your treatment. They can also refer you to a diabetes specialist. Most diabetes specialists are endocrinologists, who are doctors trained in glands and hormones.

A healthcare professional can also help you find a diabetes education program in your area to help you learn how to best manage your diabetes. Alternatively, you can visit the American Diabetes Association’s website to enroll in their Living with Type 2 Diabetes Program, or to access their other resources.

You may benefit from seeing other specialists such as personal trainers or dieticians to help with weight management. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ search tool allows you to search for dieticians in your area by postal code.

Diabetes care and education specialists are also a great resource to help you manage diabetes in your daily life, including nutrition, insulin injections, and learning how to use diabetes devices.

Diabetes causes dysfunction of the hormone insulin, which impairs your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes don‘t produce enough or any insulin. People with type 2 diabetes don’t respond efficiently to insulin, and often the beta cells stop being able to produce a sufficient amount of insulin.

If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendation and take any medications prescribed to you. Consistent high blood sugar can lead to serious complications, such as nerve damage, an increased risk of infection, and cardiovascular disease.