November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and it's never been more important that people know the facts about this ever-growing disease. Nearly 29 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, while another 85 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a disorder that is characterized by higher than normal levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps break down the glucose and make this energy source available for the body’s many functions. Usually, glucose is important for your body to fuel itself. However, when there isn’t enough insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to or process it properly, the excess sugar in the blood can cause serious health problems.
Some common symptoms of diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, are:
- Being thirsty more often than usual
- Finding that you urinate more often than usual
- Feeling excessively hungry with no apparent cause
- Feeling tired often
- Losing weight without trying
- Having sores that heal more slowly than usual
- Having dry or itchy skin
- Having tingling in your feet
- Having numbness in your feet
- Having blurry eyesight
You may have one or a number of symptoms above. The best way to find out if you have diabetes, however, is to complete a quick blood test with your doctor.
Type 1 diabetes, which used to more commonly be called insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when your body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin. If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your doctor will prescribe supplemental insulin to help the body break down and use glucose as energy.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to learn how to monitor your blood sugar levels and take insulin. Your doctor will help you with this.
With type 2 diabetes, the excess sugar in the blood can be caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin or to use insulin optimally.
Your risk of experiencing type 2 diabetes can increase as you age. Your weight (in proportion to your height) can also put you at risk. That’s why keeping track of your body mass index, or BMI, is so important. Having a BMI of 25 or higher raises your risk of type 2 diabetes significantly.
Yet, anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, regardless of your your age or BMI. To protect yourself, be aware of the symptoms and have your glucose levels checked from time to time when you visit your doctor.
Some women develop changes in their bodies during the later stages of pregnancy that cause them to have trouble with high blood sugar levels. This is called gestational diabetes. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will work closely with you during your pregnancy to manage this disorder.
Pre-diabetes is a condition where your glucose (blood sugar) levels are high, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. While not considered to be as serious as diabetes, having pre-diabetes can still adversely affect your health. It can begin a cascade of damage to those organs most vulnerable to the effects of diabetes: the heart, circulatory system, eyes, nerves, kidneys, gums, and teeth. However, there is good news: if you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, it is oftentimes easier to seek treatment and prevent the complications of what can potentially occur should you develop diabetes.
Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes may be prevented by avoiding conditions and behaviors that put you at higher risk, such as:
- Having a sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough physical activity)
- Being overweight (having a BMI that’s 25 or higher)
- Not having a good diet (consuming foods with high levels of sugar and added sugar)
Turning things around
- Change of attitude
Making the decision to change your lifestyle can be the first and biggest step. A change in attitude can keep you going. Make the decision that you’re worth it and that you’re going to make your health a top priority.
- Get to a healthier weight
Take a slow and easy approach to get closer to a healthier weight. Even moderate weight loss can reduce your risk of experiencing type 2 diabetes. Being aware of the portion sizes of the food you eat and getting more physical activity can be a great combo for getting you closer to a healthier weight.
- Get plenty of physical activity
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. You don’t have to do it all at once; you can spread this activity out over easy 30-minute increments, five days a week. You can choose from many activities and do them in bouts of 10 minutes. HHS also advises doing muscle-strengthening exercises 2 or more days a week.
- Eat right
Keeping an eye on the calories you consume vs. those you burn through activity is a daily balancing act. Find out the proper amount of calorie intake for your body and set goals for yourself. And remember that lower levels of physical activity on any given day means you’ll need to consume fewer calories. While some foods, like fruits and vegetables, clearly get the “green light” nutritionally, others deserve a yellow or even a red light. Fats, oils, sugars, and other high-calorie/low nutrition foods should be approached with caution. Sodium should also be on your list of “yellow light” foods, and in some cases deserves a red light.
Make the change
Small, consistent changes can make a big difference, so take charge and make your health a top priority to lower your risk of diabetes.