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To say that we’re experiencing a diabetes epidemic hardly begins to describe the problem. Chances are that just about everyone knows someone with diabetes. And in fact, some experts believe that it will soon affect nearly half our population.
Maybe you’re asking yourself: just how serious is diabetes? If 7 million people are walking around with it undiagnosed, is it really such big a deal? Unfortunately, it’s a very, very big deal. According to National Diabetes Statistics, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. It’s also the leading cause of kidney failure, lowerlimb amputations not caused by trauma, and new cases of blindness among adults. It can also cause other deadly or devastating health complications, like heart attacks; strokes; severe neuropathy (nerve damage); musculoskeletal changes; and sexual dysfunction for both men and women.
That said, these outcomes absolutely are not inevitable. And while diabetes is a serious condition that requires careful monitoring, coordination with healthcare providers, and real effort to manage, it can be managed—in rare cases, even reversed.
For a diabetic to stay healthy, feel well, and avoid complications, the trick is to keep blood sugar levels within normal limits carefully and consistently. Managing blood sugar can cut a diabetic’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke in half (N. Engl. J. Med. 2005).
Of course, controlling blood sugar is easier said than done. But for those motivated to make a few significant lifestyle changes—changes that would benefit all of us, not just people with elevated bloodsugar levels—the effects can be dramatic. Even life-saving.
But what exactly is diabetes? And what causes it?
When a person has diabetes, his blood is flooded with sugar (glucose), and yet his cells can’t get the energy they need from it. That’s because a diabetic’s insulin, the hormone that processes glucose, either isn’t working properly or there isn’t enough of it.
There are two kinds of diabetes. In type 1, the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the beta cells there that produce insulin. Because insulin is crucial for the proper functioning of our cells, type 1 diabetics have to get it by injection.
Type 1 diabetes is sometimes referred to as “juvenile diabetes”—though that’s misleading, both because it can come on in adulthood, and because type 2 diabetes is increasingly common in kids and teens. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control predicts that one in three kids under age 5 will develop type 2 in the course of their lives. If they’re Latino, those numbers shoot to one out of two. This is especially alarming since obesity-linked type 2 diabetes advances more quickly in kids and is harder to control than in adults.
With type 2 diabetes, which is far more common, the problem isn’t a lack of insulin. In fact, sometimes there’s an overabundance. But the body’s cells don’t respond well to it; that’s what’s meant by “insulin resistance.”
As for type 2’s causes, there’s a general consensus that obesity and inactivity are important factors. But some experts believe there could be other triggers, too, like high-fructose corn syrup—found in everything from soda to cereal to salad dressing—which can affect insulin resistance in animals. We suggest avoiding it whenever possible.
Some experts believe that the endocrine disrupter bisphenol A (BPA) also may lead to insulin resistance. It’s a compound found in many plastics, cans and cash register receipts. Apart from avoiding sodas and plastics—and, needless to say, all sodas in plastics—what else can someone with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes do to get and stay healthy? The good news is: a lot.
Experts estimate that more than 26 million Americans are living with diabetes. That exceeds 8 percent of the population, or just about one out of every 12 people. Of those, 7 million are undiagnosed—they don’t know they have it. Perhaps even more alarming, roughly 80 million Americans may have “prediabetes.”
10 Key Steps for Keeping Diabetes in Check
1. Monitor & control blood sugar
2. Exercise (with friends when possible)
3. Eat a low-carb diet
4. Maintain a healthy body weight
5. Enlist your support network
6. Manage stress
7. Feel free to indulge in coffee if you have prediabetes
8. Consider adding cinnamon to your diet
9. Get adequate vitamin D
10. If needed, talk to your doctor about medications
The treatment for type 1 diabetes is fairly complicated, and requires a doctor’s vigilant supervision. So we’ll be focusing mostly on type 2 diabetes in this guide. Many of these suggestions can be helpful for type 1 diabetes, not to mention those of us who don’t have diabetes
Published on: November 12th, 2019 | Last Updated: November 28th, 2019
Publisher: The People's Pharmacy
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