Colonization Might Be Responsible for Your Diabetes

South Asians are genetically predisposed to diabetes. New research suggests that British Raj-induced famines could be to blame.

Kavya Srikanth

August 25, 2022

Colonization Might Be Responsible for Your Diabetes
(Getty)

“If you have diabetes, you live with it all the time. There’s never a moment that you cannot be conscious of it,” said Arun Devasia, a 35-year-old union organizer from London. Devasia keeps insulin injections on hand and carefully schedules them 10 to 30 minutes before eating. “I’ve had a couple of issues where I’ve taken too much insulin by accident and ended up in an ambulance,” they explained. On the flip side, take too little, and they could risk becoming incredibly sick from a seemingly innocent family meal. 

For people with diabetes, glucose stays in the bloodstream instead of getting absorbed by cells, which increases blood sugar levels and can cause damage to vital organs (like the heart) over time. South Asians have diabetes at disproportionately high rates, even at lower body weights. In fact, South Asians are up to four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than other ethnic groups. One study found that the incidence of diabetes in South Asians over 45 was 26% in men and 32% in women — up to three and five times higher than in white men and women.

Researchers do not know the root causes of diabetes. Many point to high rates of sugar consumption, comorbidities like hypertension and heart disease, and lack of exercise. Some cite genetic anomalies that predispose South Asians to the condition. But recent research indicates that the latest culprit might be more than just genetics — namely, a lengthy history of famines and food deprivation under colonization.