Everyone seems to know someone that has been diagnosed with diabetes. However, there is a lot of confusion about this common metabolic disorder. Since it is striking more people and at a younger and younger age, it seems important to provide straightforward diabetes facts, including those about healthy eating to help those who have it, and those whose loved ones have it.
Diabetes Facts - What is it?
The full name of the disease that most people are referring to when they say “diabetes” is “Diabetes Milletus.”
Diabetes Milletus refers to a group of metabolic disorders that are characterized by high blood sugar and problems with proper insulin secretion and metabolism.
Diabetes Facts - Who gets it?
It is estimated that over 23 million Americans have been diagnosed with Diabetes and nearly 60 million Americans have pre-diabetes.
The incidence of Type II Diabetes is increasing in children and adolescents, and seems to be related to the increasing incidence of obesity in these groups.
Diabetes Facts - Type I or Type II?
Within the Diabetes Milletus framework are two major categories—Type I Diabetes (used to be called Juvenile Diabetes because it mostly affected children and young adults) and Type II Diabetes (used to be called “adult-onset” Diabetes because it mostly affected adults over the age of 40).
Type I Diabetes accounts for only about 5-10% of diabetes cases, with 90-95% of cases being Type II.
In Type I Diabetes there is little or no insulin secretion from the pancreas due to heredity, a virus or autoimmune disease that all affect the pancreas and its ability to produce insulin, so those with Type I diabetes must take insulin.
In Type II Diabetes there is generally both insulin resistance and insufficient insulin, which may be managed with lifestyle changes, medications and/or insulin injections.
No one is quite sure what causes the development of Type II Diabetes, but it seems to be related to family history, obesity, aging, inactivity, smoking, alcohol abuse and a poor diet.
In both types of diabetes the problem is that glucose builds up in the blood, which leads to complications, both short term and long term.
Lifestyle factors that seem to lower your risk of developing Type II Diabetes are not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, staying active and limiting alcohol consumption.
Diabetes Facts - It's all about insulin.
Insulin is the hormone secreted by the pancreas that signals the body to allow sugar, amino acids and fatty acids (from the foods you eat) to enter the cells to produce energy.
If the sugar in your blood cannot get into the cells it builds up in your blood and will cause damage to your body.
If blood sugar is chronically high, it will cause damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs of the body.
Some of the excess blood sugar will spill into the urine which is why testing the urine for sugar is one way to detect diabetes.
If you are insulin-dependent due to diabetes, insulin must be taken as an injection (or by insulin pump) rather than as a pill, to keep it from being digested by your system and rendered useless.
Diabetes Facts - What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is usually related to obesity and occurs when your cells become resistant to the insulin secreted by your pancreas and therefore the sugar in your blood cannot get into your cells.
When insulin resistance occurs, your body tries to compensate by producing even more insulin, which can eventually wear out the pancreas so that it can no longer produce the needed insulin.
The effectiveness of insulin can also be reduced by hormonal changes caused by stress.
Diabetes Facts - The Numbers
Normal fasting blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL.
Pre-diabetic blood sugar levels are 100-125 mg/dL.
Diabetes is diagnosed when fasting blood sugar levels are greater than 125 mg/dL.
The A1C test is a blood test that provides information about your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. The results are given in the form of a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood sugar levels have been. While not all medical professionals agree on the best number, most consider a result below 5.7 percent to be normal.
Diabetes Facts - What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Symptoms of diabetes include excessive hunger, excessive thirst, excessive urination, lack of energy or fatigue, blurry vision and a tingling sensation in the extremities.
Diabetes Facts - What happens if you don't treat diabetes?
Untreated diabetes will cause blurry vision and other problems with the eyes that can lead to blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in America.
Your eye doctor may be the first person to notice that you have diabetes due to the changes in your eyes that he can detect from an examination.
Macular edema is another eye problem caused by chronic high blood sugar.
Both diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are treated with lasers, which will help to halt the progress of the deterioration of your sight but will not cure them.
You can avoid the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy by changing your lifestyle to include a healthy diet, exercise, stress management and maintaining a healthy weight.
Diabetes makes you more susceptible to infection due to poor circulation caused by damage to blood vessels.
Those with diabetes tend to develop heart disease, which will rapidly progress and be more severe than in the general population.
Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney failure since the damage to blood vessels affects the kidneys and their ability to function properly.
Since chronically high blood sugar can damage the nerves, diabetics may lose feeling in their hands and feet.
If diabetes is left untreated, it will ultimately result in death, most likely from heart disease, kidney failure or diabetic coma.
Diabetes Facts - What you can do
If you suspect you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, consult your doctor, get tested and meet with a dietitian or nutritionist to plan the changes you will make to your diet.
Diet is a major component of diabetes treatment for both Type I and Type II Diabetes.
Type I diabetics must commit to a lifelong program of diet control, exercise and insulin intake, while Type II may be controlled with lifestyle changes or a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
The best way to manage diabetes with diet is to maintain an appropriate and consistent level of calories and carbs spaced throughout the day.
Eating too many or too few carbs can wreak havoc on your insulin response which is already impaired if you have diabetes.
While diabetics don’t need to eliminate sugar altogether, avoiding foods with added sugar is advisable for them as well as for the general population.
Most diabetics (who are managing their disease) control their diet by counting carbs.
Carbohydrates are the foods that most readily turn into blood sugar, but proteins and fats can also be converted by the body, if needed.
Eating too much food of any kind, even healthy food, is counterproductive in controlling diabetes.
It has been shown that even losing 10 or 20 pounds can improve your body’s insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance may be triggered by inflammation, so it is important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbs and lean proteins.
Fiber in foods helps regulate the release of sugar into your bloodstream, so a diet with adequate fiber is essential to managing diabetes.
Clinical studies have shown that monounsaturated fats and omega-3 oils improve insulin response, so including these healthy fats is an important part of managing diabetes.
Regular, moderate physical activity will help improve blood glucose levels as well as help you to achieve a healthy weight.
Learning to manage stress is important for diabetics, since the hormonal changes caused by too much stress can have an effect on insulin's effectiveness.
Those with diabetes are encouraged to take particular notice of their feet, since this is where problems may begin that will go unnoticed due to nerve damage and numbness.
Visit authoritative websites such as diabetes.org to get information and support.
You don't have to be a victim of diabetes, since, depending on what type you have and where you are in the progression, it can be prevented or managed so that you can live a healthy life.