Diabetes: What You Need to Know
You probably hear a lot about diabetes these days, with medical practitioners warning that much of the population is at risk for developing diabetes sometime during their life. Understanding what diabetes is, what causes it, what effects it has on your body, and what you can do to prevent it can help equip you to face any challenges you have in the future with regard to diabetes. It actually is quite treatable without medication, which means that managing your lifestyle now can keep you from developing it in the future.
Causes of Diabetes
Diabetes is a form of insulin resistance, which means that your body no longer responds normally to insulin. The role of insulin at the cellular level is to let glucose, which fuels the body, into each cell. If your body doesn’t respond to insulin, this leaves the glucose in your blood stream, which leads to several health issues down the line.
Some people have a genetic tendency toward insulin resistance, which increases gradually during their lifetime. Therefore, if your parents have been diagnosed with diabetes, there is a good chance that you will end up getting it as well. Insulin resistance means that your body has to produce more and more insulin to get the glucose into your cells. During this phase, called pre-diabetes, the body produces up to twice the normal amount of insulin to maintain typical blood sugar levels.
The shift of pre-diabetes into diabetes occurs when the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce the insulin, begin to fail. They can’t keep up with the demand, and up to half of these beta cells may die, which launches you into full-blown diabetes. The diagnosis is typically based on an elevated blood sugar level caused by your body’s lowered ability to get glucose into your cells.
Effects of Diabetes
If gone untreated, diabetes leads to many complications that could affect all parts of your health. You may end up with eye damage in your retina, kidney damage, and wounds that are slow to heal. One of the major effects people notice is that they have nerve damage in their fingers and toes, along with poor circulation that requires diabetic foot treatment to get feeling back. Eventually, the circulatory problems can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Thankfully, diabetes is treatable, especially if it’s caught early on. In general, the treatments fall into the categories of getting physical activity, eating healthier food, and taking medication. The most quickly recommended treatment is losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, which makes your body more sensitive to insulin right away. This reversal can keep pre-diabetes from turning into full-blown diabetes. Getting exercise every day and eating an appropriate number of calories helps with the weight loss.
In addition to watching overall calories, people with diabetes can manage it by spreading their intake of carbohydrates throughout the day. This reduces the body’s demand for insulin at any given point in time. Women should eat no more than 45 grams of carbohydrates at any one meal, and men should eat no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. Limiting carbohydrate intake reduces the burden on the pancreas. In addition, if you eat protein and fiber with your carbohydrates, this slows down the speed at which the glucose hits your bloodstream.
In extreme cases, or when activity and diet management isn’t working, doctors may also prescribe medications to assist with treatment. Some of the most common medications are targeted at lowering blood sugar, adding insulin to the body, managing cholesterol, and managing blood pressure.
Most of the methods for treating diabetes can also be applied to preventing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a diet low in carbs and rich in fiber and protein will go a long way in helping the body avoid developing insulin resistance. You should also get annual screenings for pre-diabetes so you can find out as early as possible if you may be at risk for developing diabetes. The earlier you start changing your lifestyle and behaviors, the better chance you have of avoiding the more serious complications and treatments for diabetes.