Diabetes: A Growing Epidemic and What You can do to Prevent Becoming a Statistic
Are you one of the growing number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes?
Maybe you’re not quite there, but your doctor has mentioned you are pre-diabetic or on the verge of becoming diabetic.
Or maybe you have excess fat centred around your mid-section and experience low energy after a meal. Perhaps you get hungry a short time after eating or experience a mid-afternoon energy slump.
If this sounds like you, I urge you to read on.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month. So let’s take a few minutes to consider this disease, how it develops, and what you can do to better manage it. And if you are not one of the millions of Americans dealing with the disease, it’s still important to become educated about it and do what you can to minimize your risk or prevent diabetes from occurring in the first place.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body has a reduced ability to produce or respond to insulin. This results in higher than normal levels of blood glucose and impaired carbohydrate metabolism.
The incidence of diabetes across North America is growing.
There are currently over 3.5 million Canadians diagnosed with diabetes. Of those, about 265,000 have Type 1. This results in a $3.6 billion direct cost to Canada’s health care system.
In the United States, the numbers are even greater - about 23.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes while another 7.2 million have it but remain undiagnosed. That’s about 1 in ten Americans with the disease, at an estimated $327 billion annual cost to the country.
Worldwide, complications from diabetes are a major cause of heart attacks, blindness, kidney failure, stroke and lower limb amputation. Of course any of these brings with it a reduced quality of life.
The good news is that you do not have to become one of these numbers!
Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes: Signs & Symptoms
There are three types of diabetes - Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes. The latter occurs during some pregnancies and usually goes away once the mother gives birth.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM). It has a large genetic component and usually occurs in children and adolescents. With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, so its daily administration is often required. At present, there’s no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, so people living with it often depend on external insulin for survival.
Symptoms often include excessive urination and thirst, unexplained weight loss, constant hunger, changes in vision, and unrelenting fatigue - any of which can occur suddenly.
But it is type 2 diabetes, or Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM), that I will be focusing on in this post. It results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin, even though there is often enough or too much circulating insulin. It’s also much more common, with about 9 out of every 10 diabetics diagnosed with this type.
Symptoms are similar to those of type 1 diabetes, but are usually not as severe. Because symptoms may not be very noticeable, or may not exist at all, diagnosis may not happen until several years after onset has begun. Unfortunately, by this point, a lot of damage may have already taken place.
Although diabetes is a life-long condition, for the majority of people, it can be prevented, postponed, or better managed by making healthier food and lifestyle choices.
Type 3 Diabetes
Arguably, there is a fourth type of diabetes referred to as “type 3 diabetes.”
Most of you may know it as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Yes, Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative brain disorder, but new research suggests it may be pre-diabetes of the brain, stemming from continually high levels of uncontrolled blood sugar. When blood sugar levels run high, it increases levels of insulin. In turn, insulin creates inflammation which is a major factor involved in cognitive impairment.
Those with type 2 diabetes have a four-times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s! [quote]
There is so much more I can say about this, it deserves a dedicated blog post of its own - so be sure to check back in a couple of weeks to read more about sugar’s role in brain health.
What exactly is insulin and why do we need it?
When we speak of sugar, we need to consider it’s counterpart - “insulin.” I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but what exactly is it, and why do we need it?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas to control blood sugar levels. It is required by the body to change the sugar from the food we eat into energy. It also helps your body store extra glucose in your muscles, fat cells, and liver for later use. When your body needs it, insulin is there to move sugar out of storage and into circulation.
If your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use it properly, high blood sugar (glucose) levels result. This is also called insulin insensitivity or insulin resistance.
In addition to chronically high levels of glucose in the blood, your cells cannot produce energy. As a result, you may experience fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and sugar cravings. These cravings can be so severe, they can turn you into someone your family and friend’s don’t recognize.
Extreme cravings for sugar occur because your body needs fuel. If the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells are not getting enough food (glucose), your body starts to rebel. It screams for sugar in an effort to try to maintain its survival and restore energy levels.
We may be frustrated by these cravings, get mad or irritated when they arise, and try to wish them away. But your body is a highly intelligent entity. When it demands sugar, that’s a good sign that something is out of balance and the mechanisms that regulate blood sugar may be out of whack.
This is a good time to take stock of what else is going on in your life and acknowledge that something needs to change. If you need help kicking sugar to the curb and banishing sugar cravings, I can help. Send me an email or join my Sugar Detox Program today.
Insulin Resistance: When insulin doesn’t work as it should
Before the body develops diabetes, it goes through many changes.
Normally, when we eat, blood sugar levels rise as the food eaten is converted into glucose. In response, the pancreases secretes insulin to help your body convert this glucose into a ready source of fuel. It does this by attaching to cells and telling them to open so that glucose can enter and be converted into energy. This step is necessary because sugar cannot get into the cells directly - it needs to be shuttled in with the help of insulin.
In this way, insulin is often thought of as a “key.” It “unlocks” the door on a cell so that sugar can be allowed in. This function is critical, as it prevents blood sugar levels from getting too high. It also works to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too low.
If insulin was not present, your body couldn’t use or store glucose for future use. Instead, levels of glucose in the blood would stay high and your cells (and body) would go without energy.
When insulin levels are too high, which happens when we eat certain foods or continually feed our bodies, we experience problems. High blood sugar levels call the pancreas into action. It continues to work hard, pumping out insulin non-stop in order to deal with the circulating glucose. After time, our cells become resistant to insulin’s effects. They no longer “hear” the messages insulin sends to allow glucose in, so glucose levels remains high. The pancreas continues to secrete more insulin, despite the fact there is already ample insulin in circulation. Regardless, blood sugar levels remains high and cells begin to starve.
This excess sugar is stored as fat, while excess insulin damages blood vessels. We become hungry shortly after a meal, so we eat again and the cycle repeats itself.
After some time of constantly high levels of insulin in the blood, the cells in our body stop responding to it altogether. Insulin resistance develops and we can experience low energy after a meal, excess belly fat, hunger shortly after eating, mid-afternoon energy slumps, have difficulty focusing, and feel irritable or out of control if a meal is missed.
The results of becoming insulin resistant are numerous. Most notably, we can no longer burn fat, we see a reduction in lean muscle mass, and system-wide inflammation takes over. This leads to excess belly fat, water retention, type 2 diabetes, and blood that becomes thick with a limited ability to distribute nutrients or oxygen where needed.
As this continues, all of our organs and glands have a reduced capacity to produce energy. Serious consequences like thyroid dysfunction, growth hormone deficiency, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s can develop as a result.
How to minimize your risk for diabetes
To minimize your risk and help prevent or postpone the development of type 2 (or type 3) diabetes, you can start with the following steps:
Don’t start smoking or stop if you already do
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
Stay physically active
Limit your intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates
Avoid trans and oxidized fats
Eat 3 regular, balanced meals a day
Maintain normal blood pressure
Keep your blood sugar levels in the optimal range
Let me explain this last point. Most conventional doctors use a “normal range” of blood sugar levels to determine once a patient has developed diabetes.
A “normal” fasting blood sugar is considered 60–99 mg/dl or 3.3–5.5 mmol/L. Levels of 100-125 mg/dl is considered pre-diabetic, while over 126 mg/dl constitutes diabetes.
Most doctors consider fasting blood glucose levels of 98 or 99 “high normal” and may not be too concerned with such results, as they still fall with the normal range. But these levels indicate your are well on your way to developing diabetes and greatly increase your risk of dementia.
So even if you are in the “normal” range, do you want to settle for being normal?
We should all strive to be optimal!
The “optimal” or “ideal” range of fasting blood sugar is 85-90 mg/dl or 4.6-5 mmol/L with an A1C of 5.3-5.4%. These are the levels associated with brain preservation and a much lower risk for diabetes.
What can you do about diabetes?
In commemoration of World Diabetes Day - Wednesday, November 14, 2018 - it’s time to do something about your diabetes or start working now to prevent it.
There are many dietary and lifestyle changes you can make that will have a huge impact on your life.
Don’t become a statistic - take charge of your health today for a better, healthier tomorrow!
If you’d like more information about what to eat to prevent diabetes, stay tuned or contact me to discover your risk for developing the disease. We can work together to create a plan that best suits you and your needs.
And if you already have diabetes or have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, I can help you better manage the disease to get you back to optimal!
As always, I welcome your feedback. Let me know how you manage your diabetes and what you think by commenting below or contacting me. I look forward to hearing from you