Are you or someone close to you, diabetic? If so, you are not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 10% of the U.S. population and 8% of the world population live with diabetes. Those numbers have doubled since the 1980s and continue to rise. In response, the WHO joined with the International Diabetes Federation to create World Diabetes Day on November 14th. In honor of this day, we want to help spread awareness and education about the management and prevention of this critical global health issue.
Diabetes revolves around the creation and use of insulin in the body. Many of the foods we eat contain carbohydrates, which are the body’s preferred fuel source. Carbohydrates break down into glucose in our bloodstream, and then the hormone insulin transfers that glucose into cells. This process provides energy for all cellular activities. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin, or the body cannot make use of the insulin it creates. Then, the cells do not receive enough glucose.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational. Type 1 encompasses approximately 10% of diabetics, mostly children and adolescents, and occurs when the body produces little or no insulin on its own. This type requires daily insulin injections to manage glucose levels. Type 2 accounts for 90% of cases of diabetes and occurs primarily in adults. With this type, your body produces insulin but does not use it well. This type is strongly affected by lifestyle choices and may require medication. Gestational diabetes is specific to pregnancy. While it typically resolves after childbirth, both mother and child are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Unfortunately, many more people have diabetes than they know. Approximately half of the people with diabetes in the U.S. today do not realize that they have developed this chronic condition. Without treatment, the potential for bodily harm increases dramatically. It’s essential to know the warning signs of diabetes. The most common symptoms are:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger, despite adequate food intake
- Constant fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Wounds taking a long time to heal
- Tingling in the hands and feet (Type 2)
- Weight loss despite eating more (Type 1)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor immediately for further testing. Without treatment, diabetes can cause life-threatening complications.
Letting diabetes go unchecked can lead to irreversible health conditions. Damage accumulates in the heart, nerves, eyes, kidneys, and blood vessels. In turn, the risk for stroke and heart attack may double or even triple, and kidney failure is possible. Reduced blood flow can lead to neuropathy, or nerve damage, in the feet, leading to foot ulcers and infections that can require amputation. Small blood vessels in the eye are also susceptible to diabetes damage, which can lead to blindness. Worldwide, there is a 2.6% rate of blindness directly caused by diabetes. The good news is that these complications are all avoidable with treatment.
Management and Prevention
For older adults, it’s essential to gauge your risk of developing diabetes since factors like age and certain genetics can affect your predisposed to the condition. Once you know your probability, you can adopt various health practices to keep diabetes at bay.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, do not fret, there is plenty you can do to stay healthy! While a doctor may need to prescribe oral medication or insulin to help manage your condition, the following lifestyle changes will go a long way towards prevention and management:
- Take a risk assessment test at https://www.idf.org/type-2-diabetes-risk-assessment/.
- Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. Walking and swimming are great low-impact options.
- Focus on getting several fresh vegetables and fruits every day.
- Limit saturated fats. Focus on fat that comes from plant sources like nuts, seeds, avocadoes, and olive oil.
- Cut sugar by only consuming it in the form of whole foods, like fruit.
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
While weight loss is one of the most effective ways of preventing diabetes, yet it is important to remember that diabetes results from cumulative choices. Focus on exercise and small dietary changes, and your weight will eventually respond. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!