Learn about adult diabetes, primary causes, how to reduce your risk, and how to manage the disease for better overall health!
If you are new to living with diabetes, it is important to know the basics. Understanding the disease is the first step to managing it. Many people can control the symptoms with lifestyle changes and successfully live symptom-free. First, there are two types –
- Type 1 diabetes – This type occurs most often in childhood and happens when the body does not make insulin at all. It is also called Juvenile Diabetes. Insulin is needed to process the sugars and carbohydrates in food into energy for the body. Type 1 diabetics have it for life, and always need insulin injections of some sort.
- Type 2 diabetes – This is the type discussed in this article, and the more common type. The onset is usually in middle-age or older adults but can affect children as well. The body doesn’t make insulin as well as normal, and the body has trouble absorbing or using the insulin.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Two interrelated problems cause the condition, but the actual “why” is mostly unknown. The two problems that lead to diabetes are:
- Cells in your body, like muscles, become resistant to insulin. They don’t take in enough sugar, which is what your body uses first for energy.
- The pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to keep your blood sugar levels at a normal level.
These two processes work at the same time – which equals high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. That high level of blood sugar defines diabetes and leads to many symptoms and later health complications.
How do I Prevent Diabetes?
Diabetes is more prevalent than ever in adults, but there are some things you can do now to reduce your chances of becoming a diabetic. If you are at an increased risk because of excess weight, high cholesterol, or a family history of diabetes, then preventative lifestyle changes are especially important.
Weight reduction: Losing even a moderate amount of weight can greatly reduce your chances of developing diabetes. In one study, people who lost only 7% of their body weight reduced chance of diabetes by almost 60%. The way in which you drop the weight matters as well – a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of nutrition is key.
Exercise: Increasing your daily activity helps with weight loss, helps lower your blood sugars, and also boosts your sensitivity to insulin. All of these factors add up to a big reduction in diabetes risk. Breaking up periods of inactivity by taking walks, engage in aerobic exercise such as swimming, biking, or running a few times a week, and stretching like yoga are all beneficial and provide many other benefits to your entire body.
Healthy plant foods: Plant-based foods have many benefits – they promote weight loss and are fiber-rich. Fiber lowers the risk of diabetes by slowing sugar absorption and lowering blood sugar levels.
Carefully choose carbohydrates: Not all carbohydrates are “bad”, but some are definitely better for you. Carbohydrates from whole grains and some fruits digest more slowly, preventing a big burst of blood sugar. Carbohydrates that are highly processed like donuts, pastries, white bread, pasta, and fruit juices cause blood sugar spikes and are strongly associated with diabetes.
Symptoms and Effects of Diabetes
Many people can have diabetes for a long time before they ever realize it! It is a “silent” disease until symptoms appear that prompt a doctor’s visit. This is why it is important to have regular doctor visits for wellness, even when you are not sick. Some of the initial symptoms people notice are:
Hunger and fatigue: Because your body is not using its energy sources (glucose) properly, your body will compensate by wanting more food. Fatigue happens when your muscles can’t get enough of the sugar, and it stays in your bloodstream.
Urinating often and excessive thirst: When your blood has a lot of sugar in it, your kidneys begin working overtime. This causes you to pee more often, and in turn makes you thirsty to replace the water lost. It becomes a cycle.
Dry mouth and itchy skin – Because of this fluid cycle – peeing and drinking more than normal – your skin can become dehydrated and itchy. You can also get dry mouth as your body tries to conserve fluid.
Blurred vision – Changing fluid levels in your body also can cause the lenses in your eyes to swell. This changes the lens shape and affects the ability to focus. This symptom can resolve, but over time diabetes can permanently damage the eyes.
Long term effects of diabetes are disturbing, and most people know someone who is struggling with this. If diabetes onset happens in middle age (most common), then by the senior years significant health damage can occur if it is not managed carefully. Diabetes alters the circulation in the body, starting with the smallest capillary vessels. This causes kidney damage, eye damage, and loss of sensation in the toes and fingertips. There is also damage occurring to the vessels in the form of plaque, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Overall body functions may slow down – such as digestion, and even thought processes.
The body’s ability to heal relies on good circulation, and many diabetics develop wounds that won’t heal. The presence of more sugar in the blood also creates a breeding ground for bacteria and infection in wounds. It is particularly important for diabetics to monitor any small sores or wounds very closely.
Living with and Managing Diabetes
Fortunately, many of the ways that diabetes can be prevented are also the best ways to manage it. It is very possible to control earlier stage diabetes with diet and exercise – with no medications at all! If you do find yourself needing medications, be encouraged that there are many new ones on the market that do a remarkable job of keeping blood sugars in the normal range (when used in combination with diet and exercise).
Some of the things you will need to do to manage your diabetes:
Take your blood sugar. Testing regularly helps you understand how your body reacts to certain foods, and how you feel when your blood sugar is low or high. A regular schedule of testing, recording those results, and presenting them to your doctor helps find the best possible combination of diet and medication management for healthy levels.
See your doctor regularly. Diabetics need regular maintenance visits. Your doctor will want to monitor your weight, blood pressure, any skin issues you have, and your lab work. A common lab that diabetics need to be familiar with is the A1C test. This test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. It is an important indicator for your doctor to understand how well your diabetes is being managed with the current routine.
Keep your feet healthy. Diabetics, as we learned, have lowered sensitivity and circulation in the feet, as well as altered healing. This means that a small blister on your foot – that you may not even feel – can become a large wound quickly. It is important to wear good fitting shoes and socks, keep your feet dry and clean, and visually inspect them for any issues each day.
See your eye doctor. Your eyes are precious – it is critical to take care of them. Diabetes can affect the eyes over time, and your optometrist can help monitor this. Keeping your prescription up-to-date and monitoring for retinopathy and glaucoma are important.
A diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes can be a daunting prospect, with lots of new information to learn and lifestyle changes to consider. Remember that not everything has to be perfect every day – tackle tasks one a time, and in small pieces. Replace some foods with other healthier foods, start taking walks, check your blood sugar, and learn your body. You are not alone – and there is a wealth of information and help out there. To get started, check out the American Diabetes Association for recipes, lifestyle tips, disease information, and community resources