A Word on Diabetes

Originally published in the ClinPoint Trials November Newsletter – Subscribe here.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes mellitus affects nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. For a condition that is so common, many still ask…

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus refers to what is actually a group of diseases that affect how your body processes blood sugar, also known as glucose. Glucose is the brain’s main source of fuel and a very important source of energy for the cells that the body is made up of.

There are several types of diabetes mellitus, including type 1 and 2, pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes. One important factor involved in diabetes mellitus, regardless of the type, is insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose allowed to enter the cells of the body. Although the variable types of diabetes mellitus may have different causes, the nature of the diseases is the same; there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, which can lead to serious health problems if not adequately controlled.

Pre-diabetes and Gestational Diabetes

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and can be passed onto the newborn baby.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. In turn, your body is left with little or no insulin, allowing glucose to build up in the bloodstream. The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown but is thought to be contributed to genetic and environmental factors. Type 1 diabetes appears most often in childhood and is treated primarily by insulin injections.

Type 2 Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the cells of the body become resistant to insulin. The pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance. Therefore, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of moving into the cells of the body to be used for energy. The cause of type 2 diabetes is not clearly known, but similar to type 1, genetic and environmental factors are thought to be contributors to the development of the disease. Type 2 diabetes appears most often in adults over the age of 40, although it can develop in younger individuals. It is treated by primarily by monitoring blood sugar, oral medications, insulin injections or both.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for the different types of diabetes mellitus. An individual is at an increased risk for developing type 1 diabetes if a parent or sibling has the disease, if there Is a presence of damaging immune system cells, called autoantibodies, or if one is not consuming enough vitamin D. Type 1 diabetes is the only type of disease that cannot be prevented. However, it is often encouraged for individuals to follow similar lifestyle habits of those working to control the other types of diabetes mellitus.

Risk factors for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes include excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle, family history, being of African American or Hispanic race, increased age, poor eating habits especially including increased intake of refined carbohydrates and refined sugars, having gestational diabetes while pregnancy and other medical conditions such as PCOS, high blood pressure or high cholesterol or triglycerides.

Gestational diabetes can be developed in any woman that is pregnant, but some women are more at risk than others. Risk factors include increased age, family or person history, being overweight or being of African American or Hispanic race.

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes can include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, fatigue and irritability, blurred vision or presence of ketones in the urine. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms or feel you may be at risk for diabetes, you should see your doctor. He or she will be able to perform the necessary tests for diagnosis of diabetes mellitus or be able to tell you if you are indeed at risk.

Here is the good news!

Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes can be prevented. If you have already been diagnosed, the disease can be reversed. The best prevention measure to take if you are at risk or if you have been diagnosed with diabetes is to embrace healthy eating habits. A healthy diet for anyone is one with increased intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes and limited intake of refined carbohydrates (think white bread) and refined sugars (think cookies, cakes and processed foods).  Another prevention measure is making physical activity a part of your daily routine. Exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels by moving sugar into the cells of the body where they are used for fuel. Exercise also increases sensitivity to insulin. Choose activities that you enjoy such as walking, yoga, strength training or dance classes. Both a healthy diet and physical activity can promote the loss of excess weight. If you are overweight, losing even just 7 percent of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes and other health conditions.

Remember – it’s not about perfection. Small changes can produce big results!