Anyone can get diabetes, but healthy living choices can help us lessen the odds by a long shot.
“Diabetes Mellitus” is a term for a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood glucose, the main energy source for the cells in your muscles and tissues. It is the body’s main source of fuel. Although they share similar names and are often confused, there are two distinct forms of diabetes.
- Type 1 Diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes): The immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving the body with little or no insulin. Insulin is needed to convert sugar and other foods to energy. Without it, sugar builds up in the bloodstream. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1, and are often diagnosed as children or young adults.
- Type 2 Diabetes: The more common type, in which not enough insulin is produced or the body cannot use the insulin properly. Rather than moving into your cells, sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
There is also something called “gestational diabetes.” During pregnancy, your cells become more resistant to insulin. If your pancreas does not respond by producing enough extra insulin, the result is gestational diabetes. This can cause problems for both mother and baby.
And then there’s pre-diabetes. That’s higher than normal blood glucose levels, but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It is a clear warning sign that should be heeded. That’s when it’s time to get very serious about making some changes.
Anyone can get diabetes, and it causes more than 72,000 deaths in the United States each year. The risk of dying from diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of similar age.
You are at increased risk if you are overweight, live a sedentary lifestyle, have high blood cholesterol, or a family history of diabetes. Risk increases with age.
People with diabetes are at greater risk of heart attacks, strokes, blindness, impotence, and blood vessel damage.
According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, eight percent of the U.S. population — that’s 24 million people over the age of 20.
You can’t eliminate all risk of diabetes, but lifestyle choices can lessen your chances considerably.
- Diet: Cut back on red meat, fried foods, and sweets. Don’t skimp on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Make sure you consume foods high in nutritional value but low in fats and empty calories.
- Exercise: 30 minutes a day, at least four days a week is enough to make a difference. Choose to walk whenever possible, use stairs instead of elevators, park further away when running errands. Little changes throughout the day add up, so keep moving!
- Education: Learn the warning signs of diabetes and what to do about them.
The Mayo Clinic lists these warning signs:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections, such as gum or skin infections and vaginal or bladder infections
Anyone can get diabetes. If you have any of these warning signs, you should contact your doctor. Earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment and making the necessary changes — and the better your chances of getting it under control and living a healthier life.
We can all can get diabetes. We can all can be proactive. Our health and wellbeing depends on it.
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Photo: National Institutes of Health