Understanding diabetes and common risk factors is the first step toward prevention
Diabetes means there is a build-up of sugar, or glucose, in the blood stream. Glucose is the body's primary source of fuel and is needed in all cells in order for all systems to work.
Insulin is a hormone in the blood stream that works like a key to open cells to allow glucose to enter. If a person doesn’t make enough insulin, or if the body doesn’t use insulin correctly, the result will be high blood glucose, or diabetes.
Understanding the different types of diabetes, the risk factors, and ways to reduce risk are important because, if not controlled, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage.
The most common forms of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational.
- Usually discovered soon after it develops due to a severe lack of insulin that happens in a short amount of time.
- Leads to symptoms such as extreme thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision and unintentional weight loss, which are usually severe enough to cause a person to see a doctor quickly.
- Treatment: taking insulin and learning to adjust your diet to keep the blood glucose levels in a safe range.
- Develops during some pregnancies when pregnancy hormones interfere with how insulin works. Too much blood sugar in the mother can cause complications in the baby.
- There are usually no symptoms, so every woman should be screened during routine pre-natal care.
- Treatment: usually diet control, although some women need medication as well.
The most common type of diabetes is type 2, when blood sugar levels rise over time resulting from a lack of insulin or insulin not working correctly. Eventually, when the blood glucose level gets high enough, people may feel extra tired or may have vision changes. Unfortunately people who rarely see a doctor for routine lab work may go years having diabetes without even knowing it.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
- Family History: having a blood relative with type 2 diabetes
- Ethnicities at greater risk: Hispanic, African American, Latino or Asian
- Being overweight
- A lack of physical exercise
While some risk factors such as family history or ethnicity can’t be changed, studies show that people who control their weight and are physically active can significantly reduce their chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
In 2002, the Diabetes Prevention Program study concluded that people who were overweight and had slightly increased blood glucose levels sharply decreased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes after following a reduced fat diet and exercise program. The study participants who lost between 5 and 10 p[ercent of their weight and were able to maintain 150 minutes per week of physical activity had their blood glucose level return to normal.
What should you do to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes?
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lower in fat — especially animal fat — and including moderate amounts of whole grains. The USDA Healthy Plate (myhealthyplate.gov) is a great tool to show how to balance food choices in a healthy way. You may also consider seeing a dietitian to help you plan a healthy diet.
- If you have any risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it’s is important to talk to your doctor about getting regular screenings. Because most people won’t have any specific symptoms right away, the only way to know if you have high blood sugar is with a simple blood test.
- Discuss your weight and physical activity with your doctor
Katie Dooley, RD, CDE, CSR, is a registered dietitian and IHA Nutrition Specialist who specializes in diabetes education, cardiovascular health and weight management. Her primary interest is to help people regain their health and learn to better manage a chronic illness. For more information, locations or to read more posts from the IHA Cares Blog, please visit www.ihacares.com.