While nearly everybody has heard of diabetes, few of us fully understand it. Although diabetes can lead to complications, the good news is that it can be managed effectively. What’s more is that there are many actions you can take to lower your risk of diabetes.
Diabetes is the common name for diabetes mellitus, a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar levels.
It all comes down to a hormone called insulin. Insulin enables your cells to use or store sugar. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t have enough insulin or it can’t use insulin effectively. This leads to high levels of sugar in your blood.
It’s quite common – over 30 million Americans have some form of diabetes; just under 10 percent of the population.
There are a variety of different kinds of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This is where your immune system attacks cells in the pancreas. Because insulin is made in the pancreas, this means your body can’t produce enough insulin.
With type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin, which means your cells can’t effectively use or store sugar. As a result, sugar builds up in your blood.
This occurs during pregnancy. The placenta may produce insulin-blocking hormones, which cause high blood sugar. Having gestational diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have diabetes after your pregnancy.
Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal. Although your blood sugar isn’t high enough to diagnose type 2 diabetes, it can lead to diabetes. Fortunately, prediabetes is reversible.
The most common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low libido
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Sores that don’t heal
In some cases, these symptoms might be mild and many people ignore them. The good news is that diabetes can be diagnosed easily, so it’s worth going to the doctor for a test if you have any of the above symptoms.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
There are two main diabetes tests:
- The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, which measures blood sugar levels after 8 hours of fasting
- The A1C test, which measure blood glucose over a period of three months
Because many people with gestational diabetes don’t show symptoms, it’s common to have multiple diabetes tests in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. These tests – the glucose challenge test and the glucose tolerance test – involve testing your blood sugar after you drink a high-sugar liquid.
Why do people get diabetes? Sugary foods, right?
Not exactly. The causes of diabetes are a little more complicated than that.
Type 2 diabetes can indeed be caused by lifestyle factors, which can include eating too many carbohydrates, but genetics also play a huge role. The same can be said for prediabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a little more mysterious – experts don’t know what causes the immune system to attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It’s possible that genetics might put you at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes, on the other hand, is caused by hormonal changes that may take place during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can block the effects of insulin.
Since we’re not sure what causes type 1 diabetes, it’s impossible to say whether one can avoid getting the disease. It seems that the risk factors for type 1 diabetes are beyond our control.
The good news is that there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Although you can’t change your age or your genes, certain self-care strategies can lower your risk.
A fasting glucose test is a way to test for prediabetes. A fasting insulin test can detect whether you’re leaning towards prediabetes long before you develop a glucose imbalance.
Knew Health makes fasting insulin tests available to our Members through our lab partner. The results of your fasting insulin test can be discussed with your doctor and/or Health Coach.
There are numerous changes you can make to your diet in order to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few:
- Reduce your intake of refined carbs and sugar. This includes white flour and white bread, white rice, and sugar. Constantly eating high amounts of sugar means your cells become more resistant to insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods. Research shows that frequently eating food containing refined grains, vegetable oils, and additives can increase your risk of diabetes.
- Get enough fiber. It’s good for your gut and weight management – and some research shows that it can keep your sugar and insulin levels low.
- Eat smaller portion sizes. Eating large portions of food at a time can increase your risk of diabetes, studies show.
- Add some turmeric to your diet. Curcumin, the main component of turmeric, can reduce insulin resistance. You can get a curcumin supplement or enjoy turmeric mixed in with black pepper.
If this feels like a tall order, start with a few small changes. There’s no need to do it all at once!
A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for developing diabetes. Because of this, frequent exercise is a great way to reduce your risk.
You don’t need to become a power-lifter here. Try to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. This can include walking, swimming, or cycling. You can also try strength-based exercises and relaxing workouts like yoga.
If you’re a Knew Health Member, take advantage of our Personalized Health Coaching service. A Health Coach can help you set nutrition and exercise-related goals and be a great source of accountability with those goals.
If you smoke, you’ve probably already been told to quit. But if you need another reason to cut back on cigarettes, here’s one: they can increase your risk for diabetes.
One large review of studies looked at statistics relating to over one million people. The authors concluded that smoking increases the risk of diabetes by 44% in average smokers. Those who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily had a 61% higher chance of getting diabetes than those who didn’t smoke at all.
It’s not too late to quit. One study looked at middle-aged men who had quit smoking. After not smoking for five years, their risk of developing diabetes had reduced by 13%. After 20 years, they had the same risk level as those who had never smoked.
If you lack vitamin D, you’re more likely to get diabetes. According to one piece of research, participants with the highest levels of vitamin D were 43% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than participants with the lowest levels.
Sun exposure increases vitamin D levels (but be wise about using sunscreen!). You can also use vitamin D supplements if you’re not getting enough sunlight. Knew Health Members enjoy a discount on high-quality supplements, which could be beneficial if you’d like to support a healthy diet.
Drinking enough water is probably the cheapest, simplest, and most effective action you can take to improve your health. Staying hydrated benefits your gut, skin, brain, and more.
Many of us drink refined carbohydrates in the form of fruit juice and sugar-filled sodas. Switch over to water to reduce your carb consumption. This will benefit your body in many other ways, too!
If you have prediabetes, it can be reversed so that you don’t develop full-blown diabetes. You can manage prediabetes by following the above-mentioned diabetes prevention tips. Check in regularly with your doctor and follow the instructions they provide.
Diabetes can’t be reversed – it’s a chronic condition. However, the symptoms can be managed. Managing your symptoms in a healthy way will help you feel better and avoid the complications associated with diabetes.
In order to manage your diabetes effectively, you should do the following:
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat a balanced diet with less refined carbs and sugar
- Take your medication as instructed
- Exercise regularly, at least three times a week
- Manage your stress levels in a healthy way
- Get enough (good quality) sleep
- Quit smoking if you do smoke
It’s essential to check in with your doctor regularly. Discuss your diet, exercise plan, and symptoms with your doctor.
At Knew Health, we aim to help our Members make the best possible lifestyle choices to prevent and manage chronic conditions. We offer our Members various services, such as Personalized Health Coaching, free and discounted lab work, and discounted supplements, to enable them to live healthier lifestyles.
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Disclaimer: This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is being provided to educate you about how to take care of your body and as a self-help tool for your own use so that you can reach your own health goals. It is not intended to treat or cure any specific illness and is not to replace the guidance provided by your own medical practitioner. This information is to be used at your own risk based on your own judgment. If you suspect you have a medical problem, we urge you to take appropriate action by seeking medical attention.