When I was very young, I had a friend who frequently became faint and dizzy. Every time she mentioned these symptoms, she received delicious treats from her mother — apple juice, fruity candies, chocolate milk. I may have been a little jealous of this mysterious sickness that caused you to live with an abundance of good snacks.
It was years before I fully understood what my “lucky” friend was dealing with: Diabetes.
Dealing with diabetes
Chances are, you know someone, or several people, with diabetes. About one in ten Americans have it, and the rates are rising:
- In the last two decades, the number of adult diabetes diagnoses has more than doubled.
- The American Diabetes Association projects diabetes cases to increase from 11 million in 2020 to 29 million in 2050.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body fails to properly produce insulin, which regulates your blood sugar, affecting your body’s process for turning food into energy.
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, which occurs only during pregnancy. We’ll focus on Types 1 and 2 in this post.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes (insulin dependence) is when the body produces very little or no insulin at all, requiring insulin injections and regular blood sugar level monitoring. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks its insulin-producing cell. While this may be related to genetic and environmental factors, it’s not certain — research on autoimmune disorders has yet to find an answer to why.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes (insulin resistance) can mean the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it may not use the insulin it has well, resulting in high blood sugar. Type 2 Diabetes is significantly more common, and accounts for most diabetes cases. Genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors play a role in whether or not a person develops this type of diabetes.
Do I have diabetes?
Only a doctor can give a diagnosis, but if you experience the symptoms below, you should have a conversation with your doctor about the possibility of diabetes.
Common symptoms of diabetes
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unusual hunger and thirst
- Slow-healing sores
- Proneness to infection
- Extremely dry skin
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
Can you prevent diabetes?
Short answer: Yes! Type 2, anyway. Since Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder, it’s not preventable. But most cases of diabetes are Type 2, which is highly preventable with lifestyle changes. In fact, prediabetes (when your blood sugar is higher than usual, but not quite high enough for a diabetes diagnosis) can be completely reversed.
Sidenote: If you’re concerned about prediabetes, the CDC has a quick test you can take here to help determine your risk.
Diabetes prevention: It’s all about lifestyle
The biggest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is being overweight. Overweight and obesity are typically linked to poor diet and low activity levels. In response to these conditions, the body tends to build up excesses of fatty tissue — which makes your cells more resistant to insulin.
Three simple rules for diabetes prevention:
Watch your weight
If you’re at risk for diabetes, the first thing you want to do is lose the extra weight. In one study, people reduced their risk of developing diabetes by nearly 60% just by losing 7% of their body weight through lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor about reasonable weight loss goals and about your current level of risk.
Staying active will help you lose unwanted weight as well as maintain a healthy weight. The recommendation for adults is at least 150 minutes of exercise a week — just 30 minutes a day.
Find an activity you enjoy, take the stairs more often, find a friend to join you. When you make movement part of your everyday life, you protect yourself against the extra pounds that put you at risk.
Take a look at your shopping cart next time you make a grocery run — how many of your foods are factory-made versus natural? Good nutrition requires a diet rich in plants! Plants and minimally processed grains provide the vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and fiber your body needs to operate properly and shed fats and toxins.
Try concentrating your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store for more fruits, vegetables, other produce, grains, and natural proteins. Minimize inflammatory foods lacking nutrients, like highly processed carbohydrates, sugary treats, and processed meats.
Can diabetes be cured?
Diabetes isn’t a disease with a cure. People with Type 1 diabetes will rely on insulin their whole lives. The good news is, people at risk of or diagnosed with Type 2 can often treat, control, and in some cases, even reverse their condition with the healthy lifestyle choices listed above!