Sweetening the Deal: Understanding Diabetes and Lifestyle Choices
Diabetes is a disease that indicates there is too much sugar in the blood or the amount of sugar in blood is not regulated properly. One in 10 Americans has diabetes; one in three Americans has prediabetes. 90 to 95% of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes.
When we eat food, our digestive system breaks down most of the food into sugar. Sugar in the blood is called glucose. Ideally, we want this glucose to go to our cells so we can think, move, breathe and function. Diabetes can interfere with how much sugar stays in the blood versus going where it is supposed to — fueling the body’s cells.
Type 1 diabetes is a problem with insulin. Insulin is a hormone; a hormone is a chemical in your body that tells your cells what to do. Without insulin, your cells are not able to accept glucose. Insulin is like a key that opens the lock to let the glucose into the cell.
Type 1 diabetes patients must take insulin to live. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed early in life, between the ages of 4 and 14, though cases can be diagnosed later. The cause for Type 1 diabetes is unknown. Researchers believe there could be a genetic component and that viral infections can cause type 1 diabetes.
Common signs of type 1 diabetes include being unusually thirsty, frequent urination and unintended weight loss. Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are more serious signs of untreated type 1 diabetes. Treatment for type 1 diabetes always includes administering insulin. Patients will inject insulin using an insulin pen, a syringe or a pump. A pump will deliver insulin in small amounts throughout the day, and the patient can calculate how much insulin to deliver with meals.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes mainly are caused by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the pancreas may make enough insulin, but cells are not able to let the insulin in. Prediabetes rarely has any noticeable symptoms, but damage can still occur in the body. A doctor can prescribe one of two tests for detecting prediabetes: an A1c, which measures how much glucose has been in the blood for the past three months, or a glucose tolerance test. A normal A1c result is below 5.7%. A person with prediabetes has an A1c between 5.7% and 6.4%.
Signs for type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, increased thirst, feeling hungry all the time, and feeling fatigued. Treatment for type 2 diabetes may include a variety of oral medications used to control blood sugar.
Gestational diabetes is a third type of diabetes that occurs when a person is pregnant. It usually resolves after the baby is born but can increase a person’s chances of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life.
Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include a person’s race or ethnicity. Alaskan Indians/Native Americans, Black/African Americans, Hispanic/Latin Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders are more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than white/Caucasian people, due to unknown reasons. A family history of diabetes, being born weighing over 9 pounds and being over the age of 45 are all additional risk factors that cannot be changed.
All persons with diabetes or prediabetes need to take their medicines as prescribed. Insulin is necessary for all type 1 diabetics to live, and some type 2 diabetics also are insulin dependent. However, with a doctor’s supervision, the following lifestyle modifications can help manage diabetes and manage or reverse prediabetes:
- Checking your blood sugar as prescribed.
- Losing weight if overweight or obese.
- Cutting back on or cutting out juice, soda and sugary snacks or starchy snacks like crackers and chips.
- Eating a balanced diet, such as meals and snacks that include three to four ounces of protein, a little fat, green or low-starch vegetables and whole grains.
- Working toward exercising 150 minutes a week or more, as exercise naturally lowers your blood sugar.
- Lowering your triglycerides and cholesterol.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking raises your blood pressure and raises your blood sugar.
- Managing stress, as stress raises your blood sugar.
- Lowering your blood pressure.
You and your health care team can treat or even prevent diabetes and complications from diabetes. Exercise and diet are the most common ways to change your lifestyle, but everything you do to take care of yourself, including managing stress and mental health, can help.
Written by: Mariann G. D’Arcangelis