What is Diabetes?

by Midwest Mom

Midwest Mom's question...

My son has been told that he has Type 2 Diabetes. I would like to know what that means. I know it is about sugar, but is there a Type 1? Also, how can I help him change his diet so that he can get better. Also, is there a cure?

Thank you for your help.

Suzy's answer...

I'm sorry to hear about your son's diagnosis! You are correct that this disease is about sugar, specifically blood sugar.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

When you eat food and it digests, much of it is broken down into glucose, commonly called blood sugar. As the glucose enters your blood and is traveling to the various cells in your body to give you energy, etc., your pancreas releases a hormone called "insulin" that (among other things) signals your cells to receive the glucose, it goes into your cells, and all is well.

However, if your cells become resistant to the call from the insulin, such as in the case of obesity or family history or both, the glucose cannot get into the cells, and your pancreas will try harder to produce more insulin.

Eventually, the pancreas may become exhausted and will not be able to meet even your minimal need for insulin. So now you have cells that are resisting the insulin and, at the same time, not enough insulin to trigger the cells to accept the sugar—a double whammy!

Since it is not getting into the cells, the glucose stays in the blood and some is excreted in the urine. Keep in mind that high blood sugar is an unnatural state that can cause damage to all of the systems in your body and, if not treated, can be fatal.

This is the reason your blood sugar levels, as well as the presence of “sugar” in the urine, are important indicators of where a person is in this process.

Is there a "Type 1" Diabetes?

Yes, there is a "Type 1 Diabetes" that is usually referred to as "Juvenile Diabetes," since it involves a congenital problem that shows up in childhood and is not caused by lifestyle. Those who have this type require an outside supply of insulin throughout their life, but otherwise can live a healthy, normal life.

How can you help your diabetic son?

The first step is to educate yourself about healthy eating. Learn enough about food to help your son make good choices.

He should eat regular meals and healthy snacks, made up of fresh, whole foods with proportionate amounts of carbs, proteins and fats.

Become label savvy so that you can evaluate whether the products in the store aisles are worth his food dollars and will fit well into his healthy eating lifestyle.

Limit or avoid overly processed food, junk food and fast food, and you know what that is!

You may want to encourage your son to talk with a dietitian and let her help him set up a program that meets his individual needs. He will have to monitor his blood to discover how specific foods and meal choices affect his blood sugar.

There are also a number of excellent websites that can help you with meal planning and food choices, including the American Diabetes Association site at www.diabetes.org

I would encourage you and your son to take advantage of all the wonderful resources available online and in your community to make the transition to a healthy lifestyle as easy as possible.

Is there a cure for Type 2 diabetes?

This is a tricky question. The answer is that while Type 2 diabetes can be controlled, it cannot really be cured. If, as in your son's case, blood sugar is too high, there are lifestyle changes (and meds, if necessary) to help get it back into a normal range. However, he will always have to focus on his food choices and lifestyle, or his blood sugar will go back up again.

The good news is that, the sooner a person discovers that his blood sugar is elevated, the sooner he will have a chance to correct it, and avoid the systemic damage this disease can cause.

Thank you for asking such important questions and best wishes to you and your son!

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

Suzy Staywell


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