You walk into your doctor’s office for a routine checkup. They run some blood tests, and come to find out you’re in the red zone for developing diabetes. You’re considered “prediabetic”, and you had no idea.
That happens to be the case with about 88 million Americans. 1 in 3 US citizens over 18 years old will be diagnosed with prediabetes without ever knowing something was wrong (1).
On top of that, every year about 1.5 million people get diagnosed with diabetes.
You may know someone who has diabetes. They may carry around a small vial of insulin, or discreetly have a device attached to their body. They have to monitor their blood sugars, and for those who take their condition seriously, stick to a strict diet and exercise plan.
Diabetes is a serious condition, one that can put you in the hospital if not managed correctly. Then there’s childhood diabetes, gestational diabetes, and other medical conditions that can easily make this whole topic quite complex.
How does diabetes happen, and what can you do about it? November is National Diabetes Month, with a lot of emphasis on raising awareness and bringing change.
We’re going to take this from the top to explore the ins and outs of diabetes, as well as how you can get involved with your community.
What is Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition where there is too much sugar floating around in your bloodstream. Your body gets sugars (glucose) from carbohydrates and uses them to fuel your cells. But it can’t accept the sugars outright – it needs a middle man.
Insulin is that middle man. Your pancreas gets a signal from your brain that there’s too much sugar floating around and sends out the insulin to bring balance back to your body. The insulin acts like a “key” to open up the walls of your cells and allow the sugar to get in.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong. And with diabetes, they do. Whether there is not enough insulin to take care of all the sugar, or other factors that prevent your body from operating normally, if left unchecked it can get dangerous quickly.
There are actually a few different types of diabetes (2):
Type 1: Also known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 is the most severe of them all. Only about 5% of the population has it, but it’s considered part of an autoimmune disease because your body essentially attacks itself.
For reasons unknown, your immune system sees the insulin as the enemy and destroys it. That means you no longer have a “key” to open your cells, and without sugars your cells will starve to death. If too much sugar builds up in your body, eye damage, kidney failure, coma and death can happen.
People with Type 1 are considered “insulin-dependent” and need to have insulin with them at all times.
Type 2: Type 2 diabetes is less scary but still to be taken seriously. People who have type 2 diabetes still produce some insulin, but it’s either not enough or the insulin “key” doesn’t work. This is called insulin resistance. Overweight people who live very sedentary lives are more likely to fall under this category.
Gestational: Hormones, weight gain, and different eating habits can contribute to developing diabetes during your pregnancy. Between 2% – 10% of women get it, more so if you’re already overweight (3). If properly addressed, it tends to go away after the baby is born.
How do you know if you’re at risk? Several factors such as family history, age, weight, ethnicity, lifestyle, high blood pressure or PCOS can all contribute to your chances of developing diabetes.
What are the symptoms (4)? Things to look out for include:
- Blurry vision
- Increased thirst
- Extreme weakness
- Increased urination
- Rapid weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Abnormal irritability
Talk with your doctor right away if you’ve noticed any changes recently.
And if you’re pregnant and develop gestational diabetes, it’s extremely important to follow recommended health guidelines. Complications can affect both you and the unborn baby.
With Type 1 diabetes, it can get tricky. While taking insulin daily is a must, the waters get murky as you take into account diet, exercise, and mental health. Taking too little insulin can be just as harmful as taking too much, so a delicate balancing act is needed (2).
When dealing with Type 2 or gestational diabetes, lifestyle changes are often recommended. Swapping processed foods for more fruits, vegetables and fibers, along with exercise that helps them lose weight, may be all you need to bring balance back to your blood sugar levels. And if for some reason your blood sugars stay high, medication might be added to the regimen.
Along with lifestyle changes, scientists are also looking into the possibility of gene therapy, among other things (5).
How to Get Involved
Education is often the first step towards lasting change. Know better, do better.
If you’re at risk for prediabetes or diabetes, some of the practical ways you can take action for yourself are (6):
- Get moving: Instead of driving down the block for lunch, walk instead. Park further away from the grocery store to get more steps in, or pop onto YouTube for a DIY Zumba dance.
- Drink more water: Hydration is crucial in general, but more so when taking a stand against diabetes. Instead of sweet drinks, opt for fruit in your water, or an herbal tea.
- Practice mindful munching: When faced with food decisions, ask yourself what your future, healthier self would pick… and go with that.
- Link arms: It takes a community to inspire, collaborate, and hold each other accountable. Look for groups in your area, or join some like-minded folk online.
- See long term: You’re going to have slip-ups, and that’s ok. Just don’t give up. Your health matters, and making the small, consistent steps will be worth it in the end.
Other ways you can get more locally involved is to join fundraisers, walks, and community events. Liking, commenting and sharing helpful information on social media platforms can help bring awareness as well.
Diabetes is unfortunately on the rise. With the way modern society operates, with more time spent indoors on computers, desks, and video games, you have to make a conscious effort to avoid becoming another statistic.
Education goes a long way, and bringing helpful information to those around you can empower them to make the changes they need to. Staying active, drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables, and participating in community can help us all remember the key message behind November’s diabetes education month.
Do you know someone who is either prediabetic or has diabetes? Reach out to them today and let them know you care, and that you’re there to support them.
References & Disclaimers
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author