How To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

How To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

One out of every 10 Americans suffers from diabetes mellitus, a disorder which raises the risk of life-threatening complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Modern lifestyles, which often include processed, sugary foods, excessive screen time, high stress, and low activity, have all contributed to the diabetes epidemic. The good news is that diabetes – especially when treated early – can be managed or even reversed.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder that affects insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels. When the body cannot use insulin properly, blood sugar levels may climb too high or too low, resulting in diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes – Type 1 diabetes is sometimes known as ‘juvenile diabetes.’ However, the disease can occur at any age. In fact, more adults than children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes accounts for only about five percent of all diabetes cases.

Gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after childbirth. Most pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes in the third trimester of pregnancy. Unfortunately, gestational diabetes puts both mother and baby at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

Type 2 diabetes – Type 2 diabetes is much more common than other forms of the disease. In type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels rise above normal, a state known as ‘hyperglycemia.’ Diets high in sugar and other starchy foods contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, making this form of the disease the most treatable.

The Science Behind Type 2 Diabetes

● Glucose enters the blood following carbohydrate intake
● Blood glucose triggers the pancreas to release insulin
● Insulin triggers the release of a glycoprotein called GLUT4
● GLUT4 allows glucose to enter muscle and liver cells for storage
● Diets high in sugar lead to insulin resistance, which occurs when muscle and liver cells stop responding to insulin
● When glucose cannot enter muscle and liver cells for storage, blood sugar levels remain high (hyperglycemia)

When you eat carbohydrates, molecules of glucose (sugar) enter your blood, triggering your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin triggers the action of glucose transport proteins, including an important glycoprotein called ‘GLUT4.’

Under normal conditions, glycoproteins like GLUT4 act as keys that can unlock muscle and liver cells, allowing sugar to enter and be stored as glycogen. When you need to perform work, your body can use the stored glycogen to produce energy.

When the blood is repeatedly flooded with sugar, muscle and liver cells stop responding well to insulin, a phenomenon known as “insulin resistance.” Sugar cannot pass through the cell membrane. As a result, glucose cannot be stored properly in muscle or liver cells and instead, glucose stays in the blood, resulting in a chronic state of hyperglycemia. Because muscle and liver cells contain inadequate stores of glycogen to use as energy, a diabetic person may feel easily fatigued.

How Type 2 Diabetes is Diagnosed

If your physician suspects diabetes, he or she may order blood work. If your lab work shows a fasting blood glucose reading that exceeds 126 mg/dl, your doctor can diagnosis you as diabetic.

Your doctor may also check your hemoglobin A1C level, which measures your average blood sugar over the previous three months.

● An A1C level below 5.7 percent is normal.
● An A1C level between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetic.
● A A1C level above 6.5 percent is diabetic.
● A diabetic should aim to keep his or her A1C level below 7 percent.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms

Type 2 diabetes can lead to:

● Fatigue
● Excessive thirst/hunger
● Frequent urination
● Blurred vision
● Signs of dehydration, including dry mouth and skin
● Nerve pain or numbness in the limbs
● Patches of dark, soft skin (known as acanthosis nigricans)
● Cuts or scrapes that heal slowly
● Loss of libido

The Dangers of Untreated Diabetes

Heart – Diabetes increases your risk for heart disease. Elevated levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol – known as LDL – and high blood pressure also raise the risk of heart disease. Therefore, people with diabetes should manage not only their blood sugar levels but also their cholesterol and blood pressure.

Nerves – Diabetes can damage nerves. Diabetic individuals may feel pain in the hands or feet or even lose feeling altogether in the limbs.

Digestion – Because nerves help control digestion, people with diabetes may experience nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.

Sexual Dysfunction – Both men and women with diabetes can suffer difficulty with sexual intercourse. Diabetic men may experience erectile dysfunction due to nerve damage. Women may suffer loss of libido, problems with lubrication, pain during sex, or difficulty reaching orgasm.

Brain – If you have diabetes, you are more likely to suffer a stroke. Although scientists don’t know the exact reason why, people with diabetes are also at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Skin – Diabetics cannot always effectively fight off infections. This inability to heal puts you at higher risk of skin infections.

Feet – Because people with diabetes can develop blisters and painful sores on their feet, your doctor may ask you to remove your socks when he or she examines you.

Eyes – People with diabetes sometimes experience blurred vision or even blindness in severe cases. Diabetes increases the risk of a number of eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic macular edema (DME).

Kidneys – Uncontrolled diabetes can damage the kidneys. When a person’s body cannot manage blood sugar properly, he or she may develop kidney disease. Without treatment, some diabetes patients eventually require a kidney transplant.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis – While diabetic ketoacidosis usually occurs in type 1 diabetes, it is possible for it to occur with any type of diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when increased glucose causes excessive levels of important electrolytes to leave the body. If you experience signs of diabetic ketoacidosis – such as nausea, abdominal pain, or difficulty breathing – seek immediate medical attention, as the condition can be fatal.

Causes & Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

As with most diseases, a mixture of genetic and environmental factors contribute to diabetes. However, diet plays a primary role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Avoid excessive sugar intake if you have any of the following risk factors:

● Family history of diabetes
● Excessive weight or high body mass index (BMI greater than 25)
● Excessive belly fat (greater than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men)
● A history of gestational diabetes
● A sedentary lifestyle
● A previous diagnosis of prediabetes

Diabetes Management

While no single diabetes cure exists, we now know more about how to manage type 2 diabetes through several means including:

Diet – Healthy eating should be a top priority. Your diet should consist primarily of vegetables and fruits, lean sources of protein, and healthy carbohydrates.

Healthy foods for diabetics include:

● Complex carbohydrates, especially unprocessed fruits and vegetables
● Whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat
● Lean sources of protein, including chicken, turkey, fish, and legumes
● Moderate portions of healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, and nuts

Limit sugar as much as possible. Consuming excessive amounts of sugary beverages – including soda and sweetened tea or coffee – is a significant risk factor for developing diabetes. If you drink high-calorie or high-sugar beverages, switch to plain water, unsweetened sparkling water, or unsweetened herbal tea.

The types of carbohydrates consumed also influence a person’s risk of diabetes. Simple carbohydrates, such as white rice, white potatoes, and white flour (found in white bread, pasta, pizza, and many desserts) raise glucose levels. Swap out simple carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates – such as those found in non-starchy vegetables, brown rice, and other whole grains.

You can check the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) to determine an individual foods’ effect on blood sugar levels. Aim to consume foods that rank low on these scales, as they cause fewer blood sugar spikes. For instance, fruits like berries are lower in sugar than tropical fruits such as pineapple or bananas.

Be wary of sly marketing that can mask junk foods as healthy. Always check labels, including a product’s sugar content and calorie count. Processed foods like flavored oatmeal, breakfast cereals, granola bars, and yogurt might seem healthy, but they are often loaded with sugar.

Whenever possible, cook whole foods at home so you are in control of how much sugar, salt, and fat is added to your meal. When eating foods like oatmeal or yogurt, limit how much honey or sugar you add. Limit how often you dine out, as restaurant foods – especially fast food – often contains hidden sources of sugar and fat.

Watch how many calories you consume. Diets high in calories also increase your risk of diabetes. Several smartphone apps, such as MyFitnessPal and Noom are available for iPhone and Android to make counting calories easier. As always, check with your doctor before adjusting your daily caloric intake.

Exercise – Exercise is important for everyone, regardless of risk factors for diabetes. However, people who are diabetic, prediabetic, or at high risk of becoming diabetic should prioritize daily exercise. Regular physical activity helps the body regulate blood sugar levels, lowers BMI, and improves sleep quality. According to the American Diabetes Association, you should exercise at a moderate to high-intensity for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week.

Exercise affects the way the body metabolizes carbohydrates. Moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercise (cardio) can be particularly helpful for managing type 2 diabetes. However, you should always get permission from your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

When you perform higher intensity cardio exercise, your body switches from using fats to using carbohydrates as your primary energy source, an adaptation is known as the ‘crossover effect.’ The crossover effects occurs because the body does not have enough time to keep up with energy demand using only fat. As a result, the physically active body uses blood sugar and stored glycogen as energy sources, lowering blood glucose levels and decreasing insulin resistance.

In addition to aerobic exercise, strength training has also been shown to decrease insulin resistance and help regulate blood sugar. Without regular strength training, muscles weaken. Because weak muscles decrease the amount of GLUT4 the body produces, glucose cannot enter muscle and liver cells as readily, leading to hyperglycemia.

If your job requires you to spend most of your day sitting at a desk, be sure to get up and stretch at least every hour. Consider having ‘walking meetings’ outdoors instead of sitting at a table. If your company allows you to do so, invest in a standing desk or treadmill desk, which will allow you to incorporate exercise into your work day.

Stress Management – Everyone experiences stress from time to time. However, high levels of stress that aren’t managed properly can increase diabetes risk. Physical exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and a regular sleep schedule all help lower stress.

If you are having difficulty managing stress on your own, make an appointment with a licensed professional such as a psychologist, who can use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other therapeutic modalities to teach you healthier ways to cope.

Medication – If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to manage your condition. Metformin is the most common drug used to treat diabetes. Medications are usually combined with other treatments – such as diet and exercise.

Take your medication exactly as prescribed. Missing a dose, taking more medication than prescribed, or even mistiming your dosage can lead to dangerous conditions such as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

While diabetes may be on the rise, the good news is that you can prevent and manage your condition. Your doctor is your most important resource for treating diabetes, but much of the work of staying healthy is up to you. Educating yourself about diabetes, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can help ensure you live a long, healthy life.

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